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Exorcism Ritual Ends in Death, Police Say

July 06, 1996|RALPH FRAMMOLINO and K. CONNIE KANG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A South Korean woman visiting Los Angeles died after a six-hour exorcism ritual, leading to the arrest of her husband and two other men on suspicion of homicide, police announced Friday.

Kyung Chung, 53, died Thursday morning at Century City Hospital after an exorcism ritual during which the men used physical force to try to rid her body of evil spirits, said LAPD Det. Ron Phillips. Chung, who was rushed to the hospital by paramedics from a tony Century City residence, apparently died from internal injuries, but an autopsy is pending, Phillips said.

Under arrest were Jae Chung, the woman's 49-year-old husband, and two other men, Jin Choi, 46, and Sung Choi, 41, police said.

Phillips said no weapons were used in the session but declined to elaborate on what happened during the ritual or whether it was affiliated with a particular religious faith.

"A great deal of physical force was involved," he said. "It was strictly bodily force, and that's as far as I'll go. . . . They were trying to force evil spirits out of her body."

Chung and her husband, both Koreans believed to be living in Bangladesh, arrived in the United States on Monday for a business meeting and were in Los Angeles when they met Sung Choi, who offered to perform the exorcism, Phillips said.

"They did not come here to do this ritual," the detective said. "They came here for other reasons, and they met an individual who said he could do this."

The Rev. Andrew Kim, pastor of Glendale Korean Presbyterian Church, said Jin Choi, a deacon at his church, told him that the Chungs were missionaries in Bangladesh who were on their way to a missionaries convention in Chicago.

Kim said he learned of the ritual when Jin Choi called him between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Thursday and requested prayer.

"He told me that authorities were looking for him and he supposed that things had gone wrong," said Kim, who prayed for the deacon over the phone.

Kim also said Sung Choi, who is not related to Jin Choi, was a missionary in China whose endeavors have been supported by Kim's congregation.

Sung Choi appeared at the Glendale church Wednesday night to express his gratitude for the support and was supposed to spend the night at Jin Choi's home, Kim said.

But when the two Chois arrived at the deacon's home, Kim added, the missionary apparently asked for a ride to another location.

Kim emphasized that his church "had nothing to do with the [exorcism] incident."

"We are a mainstream Presbyterian church, and we just preach the Gospel quietly," he said.

Phillips said the ritual began Wednesday afternoon in a borrowed Century City residence. After a break, it resumed at midnight before it turned fatal. Paramedics were called to the scene after one of the participants in the ritual placed a 911 call, authorities said. Kyung Chung died shortly before 7 a.m. Thursday, a coroner's spokesman said. Her husband and both Chois took part in the ritual, Phillips said.

The Rev. Soon-Young Chun, pastor of Valley First Presbyterian Church and a specialist on cults, called the incident tragic.

"This is an extreme case, involving a fringe group of the Korean Christian community," Chun said. "I would say that what happened was almost cultist."

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