Korean bank hostage suspect found guilty of multiple counts, but acquitted of attempted murder

April 11, 2014
Kim Myung Jae

Kim Myung Jae

SANTA ANA (CNS) —  A disgruntled Korean businessman who took a hostage at a Korean bank in Buena Park and fired at three SWAT officers during an ensuing standoff was convicted today of false imprisonment and other felonies, but was acquitted of attempted murder.

Jurors, who began deliberating Thursday afternoon, found 56-year-old Myung Jae Kim of Irvine guilty of assault with a firearm, false imprisonment, three counts of assault on a peace officer, possession of a destructive device in a public place, possession of a destructive device for intimidation or injury and making criminal threats.

Jurors also found true sentence-enhancing allegations of use of a deadly weapon and the personal use of a firearm, but rejected another allegation that he intentionally fired a weapon.

Kim — who could have faced up to 50 years to life in prison if convicted as charged — is facing a maximum of 24 years behind bars when sentenced on June 13, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney John Christl.

“I think the victims received justice for the crime,” the prosecutor said.

“It was the right result,” said Kim’s attorney, Kevin Song of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office.

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, Senior Deputy District Attorney John Christl said.

The Saehan Bank employee, Michelle 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.  ”He didn’t say he wanted to kill her, but his actions showed differently,” Christl told the jury.

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.

Kim’s attorney, Kevin Song of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, argued his client had never intended to kill Kwon, who coincidentally was a customer of the defendant’s business. Kim just wanted a Hanmi bank executive to call him with information on who took the cash, his attorney said.

Song said Kim emigrated to the country “pursuing the American dream,”  but he “didn’t trust the bank and didn’t want to pay taxes on his cash,” so put it in a safety deposit box.

Garden Grove police called Kim a year after he filed a police report saying “the case is closed and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Song said. He said Kim was “sure” after finally getting a meeting with a bank vice president that his wife did not take the cash and that the bank was responsible for the missing money.

Kim called Kwon “once or twice a year,” and she told him that there was nothing she could do to help him, Song said.

“This is a case about a family man desperate for answers,” Song told the jury.  ”He never had the intent to kill … He brought the weapons to send a message that he needs to be taken seriously.”