Father pleads guilty to killing his children in SUV blaze
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A father who set his sport utility vehicle ablaze six years ago in a murder-suicide attempt, killing his two children, but who jumped out in time to save himself, pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of murder.
Dae Kwon Yun, 61, agreed to serve two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. In exchange, prosecutors said they would no longer seek the death penalty.
Just before he entered the courtroom, a sheriff’s deputy told the judge the man’s status had been changed to ‘suicidal.’ Yun appeared in a thick dark green frock, chained and handcuffed at the waist and his hair disheveled.
He responded to the prosecutor’s question’s regarding the terms of his plea in a barely audible voice through a Korean interpreter, his eyes a blank stare.
A Toyota Sequoia containing Yun and his two children burst into flames in downtown Los Angeles in April 2006, two weeks after the businessman shut down his T-shirt manufacturing business and a week after his wife of 13 years filed for divorce.
Detectives said at the time that Yun appeared to have doused the interior of the SUV with fuel before setting it on fire. A witness testified in 2008 that he saw Yun shouting at his 11-year-old daughter, Ashley, before grabbing her and shoving her into the back seat of his car. After the vehicle went up in flames, Yun rolled out onto the ground with his legs aflame, the witness, Nelson A. Calderon, recalled at a preliminary hearing. Yun yelled for help, but never once gestured toward the SUV, the witness said.
A firefighter testified that the burned body of Ashley’s brother, 10-year-old Alexander, was positioned in a way that showed he was trying to open the back door. Yun suffered burns to his face, hands and legs but survived.
Yun had faced financial difficulties due to gambling debt, as well as $100,000 he owed in back taxes.
His wife and the children’s mother, Sun Ok Ma, testified that he repeatedly beat her and threatened to kill her and burn down their home, leading up to their separation and divorce.
He had previously pleaded guilty in 2004 to beating Ma, and was sentenced to two years’ probation.
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-- Victoria Kim in L.A. County Superior Court