Murder trial for ferry crew begins

June 10, 2014
Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the sunken ferry Sewol, is taken to a courtroom for the first hearing of his murder trial, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the sunken ferry Sewol, is taken to a courtroom for the first hearing of his murder trial, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

By Kim Da-ye

The trial of 15 crew members of the sunken ferry Sewol, charged with murder and other accusations, began Tuesday at the Gwangju District Court.

Lee Joon-seok, the ferry’s captain, and three other senior crewmen face murder charges for abandoning their vessel without any attempt to evacuate passengers in a tragedy that took the lives of 292 with 12 others still missing.

The prosecution said the crew members failed to take measures to save the passengers, although they knew that their negligence would lead to the deaths of those still on board.

The three crewmen facing murder charges are the first and second mates and the chief engineer.

If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

The prosecution also indicted 11 other low-ranking crew members for negligence.

The committee of the victims’ family members said Tuesday in a press conference that they will attend every hearing of the trial, which is scheduled to be held twice a week.

“The unscrupulous, irresponsible people like the captain and some crew members must be severely punished so that they don’t stand with their feet on this land,” said Yoo Gyeong-geun, spokesperson of the committee.

The family members departed from Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, in three buses, because many of the victims are students at Danwon High School located in the city.

Because of much public interest in the trial, the Gwangju District Court prepared a complementary courtroom where the trial will be broadcast for the family members and other observers who are unable to secure seats in the main courtroom.

The key issue in the trial will be proving if the actions of the captain and the senior crew members meet the legal threshold for a conviction for murder of the passengers.

The Korean criminal code treats “murder by not taking certain actions” and “murder by taking certain actions,” such as stabbing a person to death, as the same. Under the criminal code, those convicted of murder are given the death penalty, a life sentence or a prison term of five years or more.

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