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Korean Missionaries' Murder Case Pits Religion, Culture and Law

April 06, 1997

After three years, the demons were back. Once again, dark spirits were making the missionary's wife arrogant, disobedient to her husband and constantly interfering with his work at their seminary in Bangladesh.

And so, the men of God battled the kwishan--the evil spirits--for her soul.

In their view of this showdown, defense attorneys hope to put forth a broader, richer account of the events than the police and medical examiners. They portray their clients as devout men consumed in a battle that transcends tangible evidence and conventional beliefs.

The Rev. Sung Soo Choi had volunteered as the healer. Five times before, the evangelical missionary had rousted evil spirits from believers. This time, as the woman's husband shouted the name of Jesus, the healer prayed, sermonized, sang hymns and laid on hands, commanding the demons to leave with all the fervor he could marshal.

For an afternoon and later, well into the next morning, the men took turns pushing against her thighs, abdomen and chest--using their hands, a spoon and their feet in an attempt to squeeze out the devils.

Four, maybe five of them were ousted during an ansu prayer the afternoon of July 3 at a house in Koreatown. But the most powerful and entrenched devil stayed.

Although she was understandably exhausted, the wife was willing to try again. She, more than anyone, wanted the demon expelled.

After a break for church services, the Rev. Choi and the Rev. Jae Whoa Chung, the woman's husband, mounted a second attack on the powerful spirit.

While the Rev. Choi stood on top of the woman to force the devil up through her mouth, her husband and Jin Choi, a deacon at Glendale Calvary Presbyterian Church, took turns poking it as she pointed to the spots where it lurked.

"There, it's there," she told them. "No, you lost it. You've got to go back."

Healer: Is there a spirit? Is there a spirit?

Voice: Yes! Yes!

Healer: What kind of a spirit? Who are you?

Voice: I'm the military.

Healer: When did you get in the body?

Voice: 27 years ago.

Healer: Get out!

Voice: There's no place to go.

Healer: Get out. To the Pacific Ocean.

Voice: No, but I'll go into a dog. . . . The dog next door.

The object of their zeal spoke in tongues and frothed at the mouth, oozing mucus and saliva, until finally it seemed that "Gundae," the military demon known as "Legion," was near surrender.

"OK, I'm dying. I'm dying," growled a deep voice from within her. "I'll get out."

Seizing upon their enemy's weakness, the men took turns twisting their heels into the center of the woman's chest, grinding out Gundae as if the demon were a smoldering cigarette.

Only then--according to defense lawyers James Barnes, Christopher Lee, and Robert Sheahen--did the missionaries realize that her chest was sunken and her breathing had become labored. Gundae had triumphed. It never occurred to any of them that she might die.

"There was not even one time that she complained or screamed out," Jin Hyun Choi, the deacon, told police. "I guess that's what it takes to get the demons out."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE PROSECUTION

A healing ceremony became a malicious beating at the hands of an ambitious exorcist out to make a name, deputy D.A. contends.

The details of Kyung Jae Chung's death are cataloged in the "Murder Book," the 6-inch-thick binder of reports and witness interviews kept by the LAPD.

Thursday, July 4, 01:34 hours, one Jin Hyun Choi summoned an ambulance to Unit 111 at 2122 Century Park Lane, Century City. A woman was having difficulty breathing.

LAPD Patrol Officer Steven Briggs, working the graveyard shift in West Los Angeles, arrived at the condo at 02:05 hours. Was met at the door by the reporting party, an Asian man who spoke excitedly, but Briggs couldn't understand a word. "I just asked him if he spoke English and he began to speak Oriental," Briggs recalled.

Inside the bedroom, paramedics tried to revive the victim. Two Asian men sat somberly on a sofa in the living room. They seemed tired.

Scott Paik, a Korean-speaking officer, arrived at 02:30 hours to translate. Briggs had thought the men might have engaged in a "coining," a Vietnamese folk cure that involves rubbing heated coins on the skin to remedy aches and fevers.

But, the men told Paik, they'd been trying to expel spirits from the woman. It was, he realized, an exorcism.

Victim was transported to Century City Hospital, pronounced dead at 6:30 a.m.

"I was so close to it, getting rid of the thing," exorcist Sung Soo Choi told Paik. "Maybe I shouldn't have used the foot."

Official cause of death determined by an autopsy: multiple blunt force trauma.

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