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INSIDE STORY

Identical Stories

The Han Twins Share Good Looks, Book Smarts--and the Belief That One Sister Didn't Really Plot to Kill the Other.

July 12, 1998|GREG HERNANDEZ | Greg Hernandez is a Times staff writer

Through the windshield of the rented getaway car, Jeen Han watches the front door of the corner apartment. She sees the two boys she met only a few days earlier approach the place where her identical twin, Sunny Han, lives. She sees the older boy, the one holding the gun out of sight, knock. The door opens, and the boys, pretending to sell magazines, talk politely with a young woman. Then they push their way inside. * The next thing Jeen, better known as Gina, will see from her parking spot in the sprawling peach-stucco complex is the younger boy hurrying down the sidewalk toward the car. But for what seems like forever she is shut out of the scene that she choreographed the day the lid blew off her rage.

She has no clue yet that things are not going according to the script. That Sunny, hearing her roommate's shrieks, has called 911 on her cell phone from a back bathroom. That as 16-year-old Archie Bryant corners Sunny, throws her to the carpet, points the derringer at her back and barks, "I'll kill you. I'll shoot you," the Irvine police are already on their way.

Within minutes, they surround the apartment and yell, "Police!"

Posing as innocent bystanders, Gina and 15-year-old Jonathan Sayarath sit tight in the Mustang convertible.

Inside, Bryant panics. He frantically undoes his and Sayarath's handiwork, untying the women's wrists and tearing duct tape from their mouths. "Just tell the cops it was a big joke, like we were playing a game," he begs.

As the uniforms move in, a now-frantic Gina suddenly bails out of the car, confronts an officer and demands to know what's going on. Oblivious of her role in the crime, he shoos her away. By the time Bryant emerges from the apartment in handcuffs, followed by his stunned and disoriented victims, tape still clinging to their hair, Gina and Jonathan are high-tailing back to San Diego.

Police greet the pair at the Alamo car-rental facility near Lindbergh Field. Bryant had blabbed to investigators, of course, told them all about the "bad blood" between the sisters. At the Irvine station, Gina gets tagged with a nickname: evil twin.

*

By default, Sunny got to be the good twin.

As the international media swooped in and ran wild with the bizarre story of a 22-year-old woman accused of hiring a pair of teenagers to kill her identical twin, she hooked up with a media agent and made the rounds. In the months after Gina's arrest in November 1996, Sunny quietly told Leeza and Geraldo and the nice folks at "Hard Copy," who paid her $10,000, that the sister with whom she had shared a womb, a horrible childhood and co-valedictorian honors in high school could not do such a thing. Yes, their relationship had deteriorated in recent years as both girls stumbled toward adulthood. True, Gina had betrayed her before, many times, particularly after she took up gambling. And, according to several witnesses, Gina had even talked about her plan to have Sunny murdered. But Sunny chose to believe her sister's story, that she had merely wanted to scare Sunny into returning some of her belongings--a driver's license, clothes, a backpack and a tax-refund check.

Tales about rival twins date back to Romulus and Remus, the brothers from Roman mythology who grew into bitter enemies; Remus died at the hands of either Romulus or one of his followers, and Romulus became ruler of Rome. In the film era, they have made for juicy movie plots. Bette Davis twice portrayed both the good twin and the evil twin, in the 1946 film "A Stolen Life" and 18 years later in "Dead Ringer."

But what captivates many of us are the amazing true stories about the sometimes surreal primordial connection between identical twins, like the inseparable pair who married another inseparable pair and lived happily ever after in a duplex in Idaho. Or the brothers, separated at birth, who as adults discovered many inexplicable similarities, from their taste in TV sitcoms right on down to their cigarette brand. Though not all experts buy into the phenomenon known as "utero-bonding," it explains the media gluttony in the Han case.

"The idea of an identical twin killing another is so fantastic that we can't imagine," observes Nancy L. Segal, a Cal State Fullerton psychology professor and leading expert on twins. "If this had been ordinary siblings or cousins or friends, it wouldn't have captured anyone's imagination," she says. "We tend to think of twins as being so close and compatible, which in most cases they are."

So what went wrong here?

*

In Korean culture, the firstborn is given special status, even if the child holds an edge of only a few minutes, as Sunny did on April 30, 1974. Perhaps that tradition made it easier for a single mother without the means to care for twins to decide which baby to keep. Soon after giving birth, 26-year-old Boo Kim separated her daughters, sending Gina to live with her maternal grandfather.

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