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Korean Missionaries' Murder Case Pits Religion, Culture and Law

April 06, 1997

Sixteen of the victim's ribs were fractured. Her heart was crushed against her backbone and one of the major blood vessels was torn. The muscles of her abdominal wall were deeply bruised, as was her pancreas. Sections of her intestinal tract had shut down and showed early signs of gangrene. The muscles of her left thigh were shredded and swollen, releasing enzymes sure to cause kidney failure. The leg injury appeared to be older than the other injuries.

On her abdomen, stretching from hip to hip, were a series of odd, crescent-shaped abrasions. Their source: a large spoon the exorcist used to press on the victim after his own hand began hurting, so vigorous was his poking and prodding. The victim's left side was purple from knee to hip.

As Deputy Medical Examiner James Ribe observed on the witness stand, such severe bruising and crushing are most often seen in people who have driven into bridge abutments at 35 mph, or been run over by vehicles.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Hank Goldberg alleges the missionaries must have known at some point that their actions could kill Mrs. Chung--especially given her weakened condition after the first exorcism she endured hours earlier. Witnesses said the woman was staggering, needed help dressing and walking, and seemed to be in serious distress as she left the Koreatown house and headed toward the Century City condo for the second rite.

"She's not going to make it," a young church member who drove them to the condo remembered thinking.

A possible motive? Choi was an ambitious exorcist who wanted to make the alleged words of a Chinese prophet come true--that he would be jailed, martyred for his work with demons--in time for a big conference of Korean Pentecostals in Chicago. In fact, Choi has told other church members that Goldberg himself is a demon.

"Before that plane containing Mr. and Mrs. Chung ever landed on U.S. soil, he had convinced himself he had to do something outrageous enough to land himself in jail," Goldberg said during opening statements.

The duration and force of the beating Chung endured clearly signals malice, Goldberg is arguing, whether or not they actually intended for her to die.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE RITUAL

Korean Pentecostal Christians combine ancient shamanism and the laying on of hands.

Known as ansu prayer, derived from ancient Korean shamanism and the charismatic Christian practice of laying on hands, the ritual involves gentle touching, usually an open palm resting lightly against the forehead. A variation, anchal prayer, can result in rough twisting or slapping, particularly if the demonic spirit resists.

All the defendants are Korean Pentecostal Christians, as was the victim. The world's most rapidly growing religious movement, according to experts, the faith is rooted in 5,000 years of Korean folk practices.

One example of the new religion's hybrid beliefs and rituals is the appearance of a demon named "Legion," in both the Chung and Oakland cases. Attorneys involved in both cases agree the reference seems to come from a literal translation of the biblical passage, "And Jesus asked him [Satan], saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him." (Luke 8:30)

Shamanism--belief that spirits can occupy animate and inanimate objects--continues to strongly influence Korean thinking, experts say. A shaman, like a priest, is believed to possess special powers, bestowed by spirits occupying his or her body.

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