Twin Gets 26 Years to Life for Murder Plot

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An identical twin whose plot to kill her sister made headlines around the world proclaimed her innocence and then sobbed uncontrollably Friday as a judge sentenced her to 26 years to life in prison.

Despite an emotional, last-minute plea for leniency, Jeen "Gina" Han, whom police had dubbed "the evil twin," received the maximum sentence in a bizarre case that many have likened to a television movie of the week.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Eileen C. Moore cited Han's previous felony convictions for credit card fraud and her role in masterminding the murder plot.

"It is obvious Miss Han is a danger to society, particularly her own family," Moore said. "All of her family have been victims of her crimes."

The trial had aired live daily on the Court TV cable network and had been a staple of tabloid shows. It also was covered extensively by the Korean media both in Southern California and in Korea, where the twins were born and where they have come to be known by their first names. Petitions signed by 13,000 people in Korea and 4,000 people in Orange and Los Angeles counties seeking leniency in the sentence were presented to the judge.

Han, 24, and two teenage boys were convicted in November of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes for the 1996 attack on Sunny Han and her then-roommate, Helen Kim. The young women were bound and gagged in their Irvine apartment moments before police burst in to rescue them.

The twins, who were co-valedictorians of their high school in Campo, 40 miles east of San Diego, once had been very close. But they had experienced a series of falling outs in recent years, most stemming from Jeen's gambling.

In the days before the attack, Jeen was convinced that Sunny had some belongings of hers and wouldn't return them. She also was angry that Sunny had reported her to police for stealing her car and using her credit cards.

A murder plot, prosecutors contended, was hatched.

Co-defendants Archie Bryant, 18, and John Sayarath, 16, posed as magazine salesmen to get into Sunny Han's apartment. She was in her bedroom when she heard Kim scuffling with the men and used her cellular telephone to call 911. The two boys then burst into Sunny's bedroom, tied her up and forced both women into a bathtub.

Bryant, who had carried a gun in the attack, was sentenced Friday to 18 years in state prison. Sayarath is expected to be sentenced to eight years, pending a decision on whether that will be served in prison or the California Youth Authority. Each could have received a sentence of 25 years to life.

"We have a person here who is worth salvaging," Sayarath's attorney, Salvatore Ciulla, said to the judge.

Bryant, also addressing the judge, said, "I realize what I've done is wrong. I'm the one who has to live with it. . . . I can't take back what I did, and Lord knows I wish every day that I could."

But Bryant insisted that he had not planned to kill that day.

"There's nobody on this planet who can manipulate me to take someone else's life," he said.

Han, who was sentenced last, tearfully addressed the court for the first time since her trial began.

"I am deeply sorry for everything that has happened," she said. But she too said she had "absolutely no intent to kill my twin sister. Sunny is my flesh and blood."

Han also apologized to the Korean community.

"I just feel very bad and extremely remorseful for all of the pain I have caused to my sister, my community and my entire family members," she said.

She reserved her final remarks for Sunny.

"I just want my sister to know that I love her very much," she said.

The twins' mother, Boo Kim, 49, tearfully begged the judge to give her daughter a chance to "have a life." Her twins, she said, "are closer to each other than they are to their mother," and one would never hurt the other.

Sunny Han was not at the sentencing. She had testified at the trial, at one point arriving in court after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. She said she was depressed about testifying against her twin.

During the trial, the prosecution portrayed Jeen Han as a cold schemer who wanted her sister dead. They presented evidence that in the days before the attack, Han had asked several people to help her carry out a murder. Sayarath and Bryant, whom she barely knew, finally agreed to help.

Among the most damning physical evidence against the trio was a loaded gun, duct tape, twine and plastic garbage bags they brought with them to the apartment. The prosecution called the items a "recipe for murder" while the defense claimed they brought the items to protect themselves in case Asian gang members were inside the apartment.

Bryant was caught inside the apartment and arrested at the scene. Jeen Han and Sayarath fled and were arrested later that day trying to rent a car in San Diego.

Victor Ray, lead detective in the case, said Han's sentence was "well-deserved."

"She took two innocent teenage boys whom she knew could be easily taken advantage of and took advantage of them," Ray said.

Attorneys for all three defendants maintained Friday that there was no murder plot.

"I will never believe until the day I die that she was going to kill her sister," said Han's attorney, Roger Alexander. "I will never believe it was her intention."

Alexander said he planned to appeal the case. He doesn't blame the judge for the harsh punishment, he said, but himself.

In January, Alexander took the unusual step of asking for a new trial or a reduction of the charges based on his own "incompetence" in representing Han. He claimed to have presented "a very, very meager case" to the jury.

In retrospect, Alexander said, he should have presented jurors with more evidence about Korean culture, in which verbal assaults and threats are common but rarely acted on. He also said he should have put his client on the stand and should have persuaded her mother to testify.

The defense attorney introduced some of that evidence Friday during a hearing requesting a new trial, but the judge was not swayed.

"If you want to know the truth, I failed. I should have been able to convince the jury that the evidence was not there," Alexander said. "Right now, I would like to crawl off to some corner and sleep for about a year. That's how I feel."

When Alexander left the courtroom, his client was still crying and had asked him to call her pastor.

"I've done that," he said. "She needs somebody to talk to tonight."

Times staff writer Thao Hua contributed to this report.

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