A day after Korean-born grocer Soon Ja Du sought court permission to revisit her native country, her attorney withdrew the request Wednesday because of a recently launched federal civil rights investigation into her fatal shooting of a black teen-ager.
Du--sentenced a year ago to probation for killing 15-year-old Latasha Harlins in a case that inflamed tensions between the city’s African-American and Korean-American communities--had sought permission from Los Angeles Superior Court to return to South Korea.
But Assistant Atty. Gen. John R. Dunne, in a letter to the district attorney’s office, asked that Du remain in the country pending the completion of a U.S. Justice Department “inquiry to determine whether any federal statutes were violated.”
Du’s attorney, Charles Lloyd, said he had been unaware of the federal investigation, and he withdrew the 51-year-old Du’s request before Judge Lance Ito “in light of the opposition raised.” Under the terms of her probation, Du would need court permission to leave the country.
Department of Justice spokeswoman Obern Rainey said the results of a preliminary investigation by the FBI in Los Angeles were forwarded to Washington last month for review by government attorneys. She could not predict when the inquiry would be completed.
The teen-ager was shot in the head by Du after the two fought over a bottle of orange juice at the Du family market in March, 1991. Du was convicted by a jury of voluntary manslaughter, then placed on five years probation by Superior Court Judge Joyce A. Karlin. The sentence set off a firestorm of controversy and led to an unsuccessful appeal before the state Supreme Court by Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner.
Members of the Latasha Harlins Justice Committee, which includes family members and friends of the slain girl, have pushed legislators to lobby the Justice Department for an investigation.
They hope Du will eventually face federal civil rights charges similar to those filed against the Los Angeles police officers involved in the beating of Rodney G. King.
The officers’ acquittal in state court April 29 sparked the Los Angeles riots, and committee leader Gina Rae maintains that anger over the Harlins case fueled the destruction. “Rodney King had nothing to do with the Korean merchants that got burned,” she said.