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Special bill aims to bring Hwaseong killer to justice

Lawmakers have officially filed a bill that would invalidate the statute of limitations for a series of rape-murders from the mid-1980s and early 1990s in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province.

On Sept. 20, 13 lawmakers jointly submitted a motion seeking to punish killer Lee Chun-jae, 56, despite the statute of limitations having expired. 

The police booked Lee on Oct. 14 after they determined there were “substantial grounds” to believe he was responsible for the crimes, including admissions of guilt and DNA evidence.

Police said, however, that the expired statute of limitations would bar the authorities from imposing a penalty even if he were found guilty.

A photo of killer Lee Chun-jae from his high school days (Yonhap)
A photo of killer Lee Chun-jae from his high school days (Yonhap)

Rep. Ahn Gyu-back of the ruling Democratic Party, the bill’s chief author, told The Korea Herald the special act aims to abolish the statute of limitations for “the inhumane and atrocious serial killings.”

Ahn said the bill was not being introduced solely for “punitive purposes” but to prevent copycat crimes and raise public awareness about social safety.

Such a law, however, may present judicial complications, according to legal experts.

Attorney-at-law Cho Woo-sun told The Korea Herald the Constitution prohibits punishment by ex-post facto legislation.

“There are conflicting views among legal scholars over the retroactive application principle,” she said. “It seems unlikely the special bill on Hwaseong serial killings will pass at the parliament due to constitutionality concerns.”

Addressing the concerns, Ahn said such complications are why the bill is “a special law, not a general law.” He said he would speak with the parliament’s standing committee lawmakers to call for the passage of the bill.

He also promised a thorough preparation process, to make sure the bill would not violate the spirit of the Constitution.

The National Police Agency said Monday that it had assented to the parliament’s proposal.

In a case widely known as the Hwaseong serial murders, at least 10 girls and women were raped and killed between September 1986 and April 1991 in the rural community south of Seoul. The statute of limitations for the last of the crimes expired in April 2006.

The statute of limitations for murder was extended from 15 to 25 years in December 2007, and eventually eliminated in July 2015. But the revised laws cannot be applied retroactively.

“In light of the gravity of the case in question, justice should be brought through due investigation and trial, even if it means changing the laws,” a National Police Agency official said.

On Sept. 18, police identified Lee as a prime suspect in the decades-old cold case after DNA testing by the National Forensic Service found his profile matched three of the cases.

Lee has confessed to a total of 14 murders and about 30 sexual assaults in recent rounds of questioning with profilers.

By Kim Arin (