Prosecutors have filed four capital murder charges against a man and his alleged accomplice who are accused of using a samurai sword and a baseball bat to chop and beat to death the man’s ex-wife, her two children and a relative.
Jae Hwan Shim, 39, the former husband of the dead woman, and Steve Kwon, 27, are accused of killing the victims June 23 and then setting fire to a house in the 43200 block of North 45th Street in Quartz Hill to cover up the bloody scene.
The pair were taken into custody over the weekend after Mexican police found them near the border and took them to Douglas, Ariz., 90 miles southeast of Tucson.
Shim and Kwon are accused of killing Joseph Paul Ciganek, a 60-year-old NASA engineer and owner of the house; Jenny Young Park, and her children Jamie, 13, and Justin, 9.
Park and her children went to live with Ciganek and his wife, Jocelyn, after the breakup of her marriage. Jocelyn Ciganek was Park’s cousin.
Prosecutors said Shim is the second ex-husband of Park and has a history of domestic violence. Shim was not the father of the two children killed last week, but did have a 3-year-old child with Park. Shim left the child in another person’s care when he disappeared after the slayings, officials said.
Jane Robison, a Los Angeles County district attorney’s office spokeswoman, said Shim was angry that his ex-wife had moved out and was dating the children’s martial arts teacher. Robison said Shim’s anger escalated when Park refused to sign passport documents for their 3-year-old child.
Investigators are also trying to determine whether Si Young Yoon, 34, Park’s boyfriend, may have met with foul play. Robison said Yoon’s Acura sport utility vehicle was found near the Quartz Hill home. Yoon was last seen leaving his home on the day of the killings.
Shim and Kwon were charged with four counts of murder, burglary and special circumstances of multiple murder and murder in the commission of a burglary. Those special circumstances mean that they could face the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors have not determined whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Within hours of the fire last week, sheriff’s homicide investigators found that the blaze was set to cover up the killings. Investigators recovered from the house a samurai sword and baseball bat they believe to be the murder weapons.
Ciganek’s body was found in one bedroom; the other bodies were found in another. He had been beaten and slashed numerous times, said Ed Winter, a county coroner’s spokesman. He said Ciganek and the boy died from blunt-force and sharp-force trauma.
The woman and girl suffered multiple stab wounds, Winter said. The bodies of the woman and two children were so badly burned that dental records were needed to confirm their identities.