A South Korean man who spent 20 years in jail for a murder he did not commit has been acquitted of the crime last week.
Yoon Seong-yeo, 53, was forced to confess that he killed a 13-year-old girl in September 1988, one of the cases in the infamous Hwaseong serial murders that terrorized the country for years.
Yoon was the only person ever convicted in the killings, which inspired the 2003 film “Memories of Murder” by “Parasite” director Bong Joon-ho.
The real perpetrator, Lee Chun-jae, 57, admitted to the murders and discussed them for the first time last month.
Yoon, who worked as a mechanic, was arrested in July 1989 at the age of 22.
While he maintained innocence in the beginning, alleged police torture during the investigations soon forced him into making a false confession.
The Suwon District Court sentenced Yoon to life in October 1989, but he was released on parole in 2009.
Last year, Yoon filed for a retrial after new DNA evidence linked Lee to some of the murders.
Lee killed 14 women and children by strangling them with their own clothes, earning himself the nickname “Hwaseong Strangler.”
“I am the real criminal,” Lee said, according to The Korea Times. “I sincerely apologize to Mr. Yoon, who was falsely charged with the killing I committed and served prison time. I wish for the eternal rest of the victims and apologize to the bereaved families and all those involved in the cases.”
Lee, who also committed sexual crimes, cannot be prosecuted for his acts due to the expiration of their statute of limitations. However, he is serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law in 1994.
“I don’t know exactly why I lived such a life at that time. I didn’t plan and prepare to commit the crimes, and I just acted depending on the situation,” Lee said.
On Dec. 17, Judge Park Jeong-je of the Suwon District Court apologized to Yoon on behalf of the country’s justice system for causing him “immense physical and mental pain.”
“The defendant is innocent,” Park announced, prompting applause from Yoon’s supporters, according to the Associated Press.
Following the verdict, Yoon told reporters, “I hope no one ever has to go through what I went through and that all cases receive fair trials.”
Yoon’s lawyers now plan to file a civil suit against South Korea over the wrongful conviction. They seek to expose possible wrongdoings of the police, the forensic service and the prosecution.
“It is certainly fortunate that today Mr. Yoon was exonerated of the rape and murder after 31 years. But it is also deeply regretful that those involved in the investigations and the trials that led to the false conviction will not be facing any responsibility,” they said, according to The Korea Herald.
Feature Image Screenshots via KBS News