By: Lee Kyung-min

The Supreme Court has ordered a new hearing at the High Court for the Armed Forces for an Army sergeant surnamed Lee and three other soldiers who were accused of beating a junior soldier to death, saying only Lee should be charged with murder, not the other three.

Referring the case back, the top court said Thursday that it only recognized the murder conviction against Lee.

Earlier, the appellate court convicted Lee and the three soldiers of murder, sentencing Lee to 35 years in prison and the three others to up to 12 years. They were indicted for beating a private first-class, Yoon, to death at barracks in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province, in April of last year.

The top court said Lee had the intention to kill Yoon because he was fully aware that his action might cause death. But it ordered a retrial for Lee as well, because the Constitutional Court last month found a legal clause about additional punishment for weapons possession – a charge which Lee also faced – unconstitutional.

For the three soldiers, the court said it was wrong for the appellate court to acknowledge the murder charge because they did not intend to kill Yoon.

“Unlike Lee, the key perpetrator who orchestrated the bullying and beating, the remaining three attempted to stop Lee’s beating,” the court said. “They tried to help Yoon when he fell onto the floor unconscious. It is reasonable to determine that they participated in the bullying and beating largely to obey Lee, their superior.”

They were indicted for beating and hazing Yoon for almost a month. Yoon died on April 6. The military prosecution said Yoon’s death was the direct result of the month-long physical, verbal and mental abuse

The military prosecution initially indicted them for causing injury that resulted in death, but changed the charge to murder following public uproar against the lenient determination.

In October of last year, an Army General Military Court sentenced Lee to 45 years, but did not acknowledge the murder charge, saying Lee did not intend to kill Yoon. The appellate court, however, recognized the murder charge against Lee, but reduced the term to 35 years.

Meanwhile, according to the Ministry of Defense, Wednesday, Lee was indicted for additional violence charges after committing violence against three of his prison inmates. Lee is facing allegations that he choked them and repeatedly hit them with plastic bottles, with some of them accusing him of sexual harassment as well.