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Deacon Testifies on Exorcism That Ended in Death

Trial: Glendale man details actions taken in trying to expel 'demons' from a woman who later died of multiple injuries.

April 02, 1997|ANN W. O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MALIBU — The deacon of a Korean Pentecostal church stuck out his tongue, opened his arms wide and growled in a fiendish voice, mimicking the demon he and two missionaries tried to expel from a woman who died of multiple injuries within hours of the ritual.

In courtroom testimony that began Monday and is expected to continue into next week, Jin Hyun Choi, deacon of Glendale Calvary Presbyterian Church, laid bare the details of what prosecutor Hank Goldberg alleges was an exorcism that turned to murder.

Jin Choi, 47, took the witness stand under an agreement with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and will be spared a lengthy prison term in exchange for his testimony.

Meanwhile, two co-defendants--alleged exorcist Sung Soo Choi, 42, and the dead woman's husband, missionary Jae Whoa Chung, 44--face 15 years to life in state prison if they are convicted of second-degree murder.

The prosecution is not disputing that all involved, including the victim, believed she was possessed by a demon. But, Goldberg alleges, the woman was beaten so severely that the men should have known death would result.

The severity of the beating and delay in summoning help imply malice, a key mental element of murder, Goldberg contends. Kyung Jae Chung, the 53-year-old mother of two teenagers, died early July 4 at Century City Hospital, four hours after paramedics were summoned.

According to testimony, she died after the second of two exorcism rituals on the same day. The first exorcism at a house in Koreatown lasted about five hours, according to previous testimony.

An autopsy determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma, which included deep bruising, internal injuries and 16 broken ribs.

The missionaries apparently believed the first ritual had met with partial success. According to testimony--heard by the Chungs' son and daughter, who have attended the trial daily--several demons were ousted, though accounts vary on the actual number.

Defense attorneys James Barnes, Christopher Lee and Robert Sheahen maintain the woman's death was an accident. They plan to mount a defense based on cultural and religious interpretations of the two missionaries' thoughts and actions. They argue the ministers were sincerely trying to cure the woman, not kill her.

Superior Court Judge James A. Albracht is hearing the case without a jury. Both sides agreed to let a judge decide the case, in part because of its peculiar facts and complicated legal theories.

As the prosecution's star witness, Jin Choi testified Tuesday that he was told the exorcism was necessary because a demon had made the woman "spiritually arrogant" and that "at times she refused to obey" her husband.

The Chungs ran a Christian school in Bangladesh and Sung Choi worked as an underground missionary in China. All three missionaries--the Chungs and exorcist Sung Choi--had traveled to Los Angeles to attend church meetings.

According to Jin Choi's account, the ritual he witnessed began sometime about 11 p.m. on July 3 at a church member's borrowed condominium in Century City. Jae Chung and Sung Choi, both ordained ministers, first prayed and sang hymns as the woman lay face-up next to a baby's crib on the floor of a bedroom.

As the 2 1/2-hour ritual intensified, Jin Choi testified, they slapped her face and ordered her to stick out her tongue, and pinned down her outstretched arms with their legs. They took turns pushing down on her abdomen with their fingertips, then their knuckles, and finally with their feet.

Jin Choi said he eventually heard a strange, deep voice coming from the missionary's wife.

"Mrs. Chung's voice didn't sound like her regular, usual voice," he recalled. "It was stronger, harsher."

Exorcist Sung Choi demanded to know, "Who are you?" and received this response from the demonic voice: "Gundae, Gundae," which Jin Choi said was "the military demon."

Literally translated, the name means "Legion" in Korean, and may result from a literal translation of the Bible.

Sung Choi repeatedly ordered the demon to leave the woman's body, the deacon testified.

"I'll get out after she's dead," the demon responded, according to Jin Choi's testimony. The exorcist then asked the demon, "How can you kill the daughter of God?"

There was no immediate response, according to Jin Choi's testimony.

Later, the deacon said, the demon seemed to weaken, singing, "La, la, la."

"Mrs. Chung's voice changed and became very weak, very tender," the deacon recalled. "The voice said, 'I will go out.' And Rev. Choi at that moment said the demon is leaving the body. He pressed on her chest with the back of his heel. He was stomping on her."

The three men took turns trying to stomp out the demon. Then, he said, her husband noticed her chest injury.

"Rev. Chung cried out, 'Look at her chest!' It had sunken," deacon Choi testified. "It dipped as though it had collapsed, I could see."

Choi said he suggested dialing 911, but the others told him to wait. A few minutes later, when she did not improve, he summoned help about 1:40 a.m.

Exorcist Sung Soo Choi, he said, offered these words of comfort as they waited for paramedics:

"All the lives are presided over by God. Even the sparrows fly into the heavens."

Testimony will resume Monday, with cross-examination by defense attorneys.

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