‘Evil Twin’ Lawyer Seeks New Trial, Cites Errors
Citing his own “incompetence” for “presenting a very, very meager case,” the attorney for a 23-year-old woman convicted of conspiring to kill her identical twin asked a Superior Court judge to grant his client a new trial or at least reduce the charges.
Jeen Han and two teenage co-defendants were scheduled to be sentenced Friday, but the matter was delayed until March 6 to give the prosecution time to respond to the lengthy court documents Deputy Public Defender Roger Alexander filed Thursday.
Han and Archie Bryant, 17, and John Sayarath, 16, face 25 years to life in prison. They were convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit murder and other charges stemming from a botched Nov. 6, 1996, attack on Sunny Han and her roommate Helen Kim.
Alexander also said the prosecution did not present enough evidence to prove its case in the high-profile trial that has attracted international attention.
While he cited police and prosecution errors and inconsistencies in his 34-page motion, Alexander was also hard on himself.
“I made bad decisions,” he said.
Alexander’s strategy is quite rare, according to Robert Pugsley, professor of criminal law at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles.
“Typically, lawyers may even be guilty of such sins but they never admit it,” Pugsley said. “I think he really believes in his client and really believes in the case, and he is taking the weight of the world on his shoulders.”
Alexander said he should have presented jurors with more evidence about Korean culture, in which verbal assaults and threats are common but rarely followed through with. The twins have an extensive history of arguments that was only touched on in the trial.
Alexander also said he should have worked harder to convince 49-year-old Boo Kim, the mother of the twins, to testify.
“I should have camped out on her doorstep,” he said.
Alexander has also maintained that he should have allowed his client to testify and done a better job of explaining her actions.
“I rested after presenting a very, very meager case,” he wrote in the motion. “Any competent attorney would have done otherwise. My decision was a bad one and not just strategically incorrect: It was a clear case of ineffective assistance of counsel.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bruce Moore declined comment.
Letters from two jurors were made public for the first time Friday. A letter from juror Linda Pressnal stated that hearing from Jeen Han and about the relationship between the sisters might have provided reasonable doubt.
Juror Laurie L. Boesel wrote that she felt “surprise, puzzlement and even disappointment” that the defense presentation had been so brief and that those feelings were echoed in varying degrees by other jurors during deliberations.
Alexander told the judge that at the sentencing hearing he plans to call to the stand a psychologist who examined Jeen Han and a psychiatrist well-versed in Korean culture. Neither testified at the trial. He also plans to call to the stand Jeen and Sunny Han’s mother, who had been unwilling to testify.
“The availability of Ms. Kim presents new evidence that is crucial to the understanding of this relationship upon which this case turns,” Alexander wrote in the motion.
Since the November conviction, Kim has rallied behind her once-estranged daughter. She blames herself for Jeen Han’s problems and has enlisted the help of the local Korean community in circulating petitions and writing letters to the judge urging leniency.
Kim appeared in court for the first time Friday and called out to her daughter twice before Jeen Han was lead away in handcuffs.
In brief remarks, she said Jeen Han had been worried this week that her mother might not testify on her behalf.
“I want to get her out of jail early,” the mother said. “I love my daughters, both of them.”
During the trial, the prosecution painted Jeen Han as a cold and calculating schemer who in no uncertain terms wanted her twin dead and who, in the days leading up to the attack, asked several people to help her.
But the defense said there was no murder plot and that the defendants had gone to Sunny Han’s apartment in Irvine only to retrieve some of Jeen Han’s belongings.