Supporters unsuccessfully pleaded for mercy before the co-founder of frozen yogurt chain Pinkberry was sentenced to seven years in prison for beating a homeless man with a tire iron.
Cameron Keys, a friend of Young Lee, told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Henry J. Hall on Friday that Lee had been homeless about a decade ago, when he battled drug and alcohol addictions.
Since his recovery, Keys said, Lee was "thoughtful, serious" and "dedicated to his friends and family."
Lee's wife, Jieun Kim, wiped her eyes as she begged for leniency. Kim said through an interpreter that she did not have residency in the U.S., did not speak English and did not know what she would do if forced to return to her native Korea. She grew emotional as she spoke of the couple's toddler son.
"It hurts me deeply when my child, who just started speaking, asks for his dad," she said, clutching a pink handkerchief. "I beg you to not separate our family, to keep our family together."
Young Lee, 49, stared straight ahead as Hall handed down the maximum penalty. A jury in November convicted Lee — who helped found Pinkberry in 2005 but is no longer involved with the company — of assault.
His attorney, Phillip Kent Cohen, had asked the judge for an evaluation to determine whether Lee's case was legally "unusual" enough to warrant probation rather than prison time, a request he said was "not condoning anything, but trying to get a better understanding of the switch that turned on."
But Hall refused, saying Lee's crime showed "extreme violence" and a "high degree of cruelty."
"What this case boils down to at the end of the day, is nothing more or nothing less than a savage attack on a defenseless person," he said.
During the three-week trial last year, prosecutors said Donald Bolding was panhandling by a 101 Freeway ramp at Vermont Avenue in June 2011 when Lee pulled up in his Range Rover. Lee became angry when Bolding flashed a tattoo to people in the car — including Lee's then-fiancée and another women — showing a stick-figure couple having sex.
Lee drove off, but soon returned with another man and the tire iron. Prosecutors said Lee attacked Bolding because he felt "disrespected" and demanded the victim kneel and apologize.
A group of passersby called 911 and gave authorities the license plate of the vehicle. Had they not, Hall said, "we might be here talking about a wholly different set of facts."
"If it wasn't for those good people, this would have been a murder case," Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Zoumberakis said outside court. "I have no doubt in my mind."
Zoumberakis called the judge's decision "absolutely justified given the conduct."
Bolding, who suffered a broken left arm and several cuts to the head, has filed a personal-injury lawsuit against Lee, seeking damages. Bolding's attorney said Friday the sentence "wasn't a surprise."
"It's unfortunate when somebody goes to prison, but it was probably well-deserved here," Gary Casselman said. "Not probably. It was well-deserved."