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Buena Park bank hostage suspect sentenced to 24 years

October 17, 2014
Kim Myung Jae

Myung Jae Kim

SANTA ANA (CNS) – A 57-year-old man who took a hostage at a Buena Park bank and opened fire on three SWAT officers during an ensuing standoff was sentenced today to 24 years in prison.

Myung Jae Kim was convicted April 11 of false imprisonment, three counts of assault with a firearm on a peace officer and other felonies related to the standoff, but he was acquitted of attempted murder.

The maximum punishment was 28 years in prison. Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael J. Cassidy rejected appeals from Kim’s defense attorney and more than two dozen friends and family of the defendant for probation.

“It was a very emotional sentencing,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney John Christl.

Kim’s wife and teenage daughter begged for mercy.

“The daughter was pleading for the release of her father, saying her life meant nothing without him and that she loves him,” Christl said, adding the daughter showed the judge a school project the two worked on together that was a model of a mission made out of bean seeds and other material.

One friend flew from Korea to support the defendant.

Kim must do 85 percent of his time behind bars, Christl said.

Kim’s attorney, Kevin Song, argued his client was significantly injured in the conflict and, therefore, has been punished enough.

Christl said the defendant has to use two colostomy bags because “his intestines were all destroyed on impact of the bullets,” but the prosecutor argued the police bullets were meant to protect the innocent people in the bank, so the defendant had not yet been punished.

“He made the choice to choose money over his family and friends,” Christl said.

The hostage victim, Michelle Kwon, skipped today’s hearing.

“She was very fearful of him, very traumatized,” Christl said. “She wanted away from that man.”

Kim, the owner of a water purification company, lost about $235,000 in cash that he put in a safety deposit box of Hanmi Bank in Garden Grove in 2007 and “wanted retaliation” when he walked into Saehan Bank in Buena Park some five years later, armed with a sawed-off shotgun, pipe bombs and a knife, and took an employee hostage, Christl said.

The Saehan Bank employee, Kwon, had previously worked at Hanmi Bank, but had nothing to do with the defendant’s wife putting the cash in a safety deposit box, Christl said.

Kim filed a report with Garden Grove police after his wife went to Hanmi Bank one day and said she found the cash missing. He was told about a year later that the case was closed, the prosecutor said.

Bank officials did their own probe and cleared their employees of wrongdoing and suggested the defendant’s wife took the money, Christl said.

Over the years, Kim would call Kwon and ask about the status of the investigation of his missing cash. The calls came even after she transferred to Saehan Bank, Christl said.

When Kim went to Saehan Bank at 4542 Beach Blvd. on March 1, 2012, he was carrying a white box full of weapons that looked so innocuous that a security guard held the door open for him, Christl said. Kim was armed with four pipe bombs, the double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun, a knife, a lighter and shotgun shells, the prosecutor said.

The defendant held Kwon hostage for nearly four hours before SWAT officers stormed the bank, touching off a shootout, Christl said. While Kim never directly threatened Kwon with killing her, he did say he would “shoot off” her legs, the prosecutor said.

SWAT sharpshooters across the street from the bank drew a bead on Kim at one point, but the bullets clanked off a metal railing, Christl said. SWAT officers eventually entered the bank, where they shot Kim in the stomach and the defendant responded by firing a round at Kwon, who was fortunate to dodge the gunfire, Christl said.

Song said Kim just wanted a Hanmi bank executive to call him with information on who took the cash, his attorney said.

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