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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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South Korea Gets Green Light to Try 1997 Murder

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal judge found an American accused of stabbing a man to death in South Korea 12 years ago can be extradited, pending approval from the Secretary of State.

In 1997, a 17-year-old Arthur Patterson allegedly helped a friend murder a man at a fast food restaurant, following him into the bathroom and emerging shortly after covered in the victim's blood. The son of an American soldier stationed in South Korea, Patterson and his friend Edward Lee each accused the other of the murder, and the South Korean government ultimately prosecuted Lee twice. Lee was acquitted, and Patterson was only convicted of a lesser charge of destroying evidence. He eventually left the country in 1999, and ten years later South Korea sought his arrest.

His attorneys claim that the Korean government applied for the arrest warrant because a new movie about the killing gave an unflattering depiction of South Korean prosecutors. Nonetheless, Patterson was arrested in May 2011 and is currently in federal custody awaiting extradition.

Patterson contested the extradition on the grounds that the government lacks evidence to prosecute him. He also says that previously convicting him for destruction of evidence bars murder charges under the double jeopardy provision of the Status of Forces Agreement between the two nations. He also claimed that the length of time that has elapsed violates his right to a speedy trial.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Wilner disagreed Tuesday. "Patterson's reliance on the terms of the SOFA cannot serve as a defense to certification of extradition in this court," Wilner wrote. "An American citizen accused of a crime in a foreign country cannot resist extradition to that nation on the ground that the foreign nation's justice system does not respect all of the rights accorded under our Constitution."

Wilner also found insufficient evidence that Patterson premeditated the crime, calling it more likely a "random thrill kill."

There is probable cause, however, to believe Patterson committed or aided second-degree murder, according to the ruling.

"Overall, the court has little difficulty in finding probable cause to support Patterson's extradition on a murder charge equivalent to second degree murder under federal law," Wilner wrote. "The evidence set forth in the extradition request - Patterson's presence in the restaurant, his entry into the bathroom following the victim, proof that he emerged from the bathroom covered in blood after the victim was killed, the victim's DNA on his knife, and Patterson's post-incident statements regarding the killing - is more than sufficient to establish probable cause that Patterson directly participated in the murder."

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