S.Korea prosecutors seek death penalty for ferry captain
South Korean prosecutors on Tuesday urged an appeals court to hand down the death penalty for the captain of the ferry that sank a year ago, accusing him of intentionally abandoning more than 300 people to their certain deaths.
Captain Lee Jun-Seok and 14 of his surviving crew were handed jail terms in November ranging from five to 36 years for their roles in the disaster.
The 36-year sentence was imposed on Lee, who was convicted of gross negligence and dereliction of duty, but acquitted of a more serious homicide charge along with two crew members.
The prosecution wanted the high court in the southern city of Gwangju to reconsider the dismissed homicide charges, while the defendants appealed their convictions and the severity of the sentences.
At a final hearing on Tuesday, Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed prosecutor as saying Lee escaped the ship “without taking any steps to rescue passengers”.
Prosecutors have insisted that Lee deserved the death penalty, insisting he abandoned the passengers intentionally.
The notion of intention has been at the core of the appeals lodged by both sides.
Dismissing homicide charges against Lee and two crew members in November, the lower court ruled prosecutors had failed to prove the defendants abandoned the ship in the knowledge that the passengers would die as a result.
The exception was the ship’s chief engineer, who was convicted of homicide for specifically failing to help two injured crew members who then drowned.
The Sewol was carrying 476 people when it sank off the southwest coast on April 16 last year. Of the 304 who died, 250 were pupils from the same high school.
The tragedy shocked and enraged the country as it became clear that it was almost entirely man-made — the result of an illegal redesign, an overloaded cargo bay, an inexperienced crew and an unhealthy nexus between operators and state regulators.
Lee and his crew were publicly vilified, especially after video footage emerged showing them escaping the vessel while hundreds remained trapped on board.
The high court will deliver its verdict on April 28
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