Ex-neighbor convicted in triple slaying

A former neighbor was found guilty of murder Tuesday in the slayings of a 2-year-old boy, his mother and the child’s nanny in a Miracle Mile-area apartment nine years ago.

As the first guilty verdict was read, Robin Kyu Cho collapsed forward onto a table, buried his face in his hands and began sobbing, his shoulders heaving. His attorney, Andrew Flier, crumpled a piece of paper and abruptly stood up while the verdicts were being read, angrily throwing the paper into a trash can.

The jury deliberated for about a week before returning the verdicts. The panel found Cho guilty of first-degree murder for the killing of the mother, Chi Hyon Song, who was gagged and bound with packaging tape and shot in the head. For the deaths of the nanny, Eun Sik Min, and the child, Hyun Woo, jurors found Cho guilty of second-degree murder.

Cho, 53, could face the death penalty for the 2003 killings, to which he was connected through DNA evidence six years after the victims were found in the bathroom of the family’s apartment. Cho lived three floors below, on the ground floor of the apartment complex.

The child’s father, Byung Chul Song, said Tuesday that he felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from his chest. For years until Cho’s arrest, Song was the primary suspect in his wife and child’s murders after an anonymous, typewritten letter to police accused him of hiring men from Korea to kill his family.

“It’s news that I’ve been waiting and waiting to hear,” he said.

Kris Kim, the nanny’s daughter, said that sitting through the testimony was heartbreaking.

“Every day felt like the day she died,” said Kim, reached at her office in San Jose. “I can never have closure for having lost my mother, but this is some kind of closure.”

Cho’s attorney, Flier, called the verdicts “inconsistent.” He said his client continues to maintain his innocence.

Jurors will begin hearing evidence Monday in the penalty phase of the trial, during which they will be asked to decide whether Cho should be put to death or receive life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The genetic material that led to Cho’s arrest was recovered from the torn tips of a latex glove found stuck to packaging tape used to bind the 30-year-old mother.

During the trial, which began in early May, a prosecutor narrated for jurors the hours leading up to the killings using surveillance camera images, crime scene photos and reconstruction experts. The child and nanny, he said, were probably shot first in the bathtub, with the 56-year-old nanny shielding the toddler with her body. The mother probably walked in unexpectedly on the killer, who taped her mouth and wrists before shooting her in the head.

The guilty verdicts came despite the prosecution’s struggle to explain why Cho, an insurance salesman and a married father of two with no record of violence, would commit such a brutal crime.

In closing arguments, Deputy Dist. Atty. Frank Santoro told the panel that the law does not require the prosecution to prove a motive. No one may ever know why, but DNA evidence and Cho’s incriminating statements in police interviews point to the man’s guilt, the prosecutor said.

“Who cares why Mr. Cho committed this murder?” he told jurors. “He put on those gloves for whatever reason, he went into that house for whatever reason and he pulled the trigger six times.”

Cho, he said, was a desperate man at the time of the killings, going through bankruptcy and facing constant pressure from creditors. Even though nothing was stolen from the Songs’ apartment, Cho’s financial situation may have pushed him “over the edge,” Santoro told jurors.

Flier, the defense attorney, dismissed the suggestion, noting that prosecutors never charged Cho with committing the murders for financial gain or during the course of a burglary. Cho faces allegations of personally discharging a firearm and multiple murders, which make him subject to the death penalty.

“The only desperation I saw in this case is the district attorney’s to prove the case,” he told jurors. The prosecutor, Flier said, “knows that the why can never be answered, and it shows Mr. Cho is innocent.”

The defense attorney also questioned the genetic evidence. Because the material tested was a mixture including more than one person’s DNA, including Chi Hyon Song’s, it is less reliable and more subject to interpretation, Flier contended.