A Los Angeles jury convicted a Koreatown resident Thursday of kidnapping and abusing a 5-year-old boy from a Wilshire-area preschool last October, but found him not guilty of attempted murder.
The jury also found 35-year-old Jong Mok Choe guilty of trying to kidnap a 3-year-old boy from another preschool. The jurors deadlocked on a charge of committing a lewd act on a child, prompting Superior Court Judge Lance Ito to declare a mistrial on that count.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Linda Loftfield said she was satisfied with the verdicts and probably would not seek a new trial on the deadlocked charge. She said the lewd act allegation was hard to prove because the child did not remember being sexually molested.
Authorities believe Choe walked into the preschool on Oct. 6 and asked for the 5-year-old Korean American child by name. Choe called the child's mother 15 minutes after taking the boy and threatened to kill him unless a $30,000 ransom was paid, police said. Later that evening the boy was found near a ravine in Griffith Park.
The jury foreman, who declined to give his name, said the jurors went back and forth on the lewd act charge but could not reach a verdict. He added they felt that the prosecution did not completely prove the attempted murder charge. "We didn't feel the defendant ever had murder on his mind," he said.
Choe faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole in court Sept. 28.