‘Soldiers of Christ’ murder suspects plead not guilty in Gwinnett

2 defendants entered pleas in person at arraignment hearing Wednesday
Mihee Lee appeared in court in Gwinnett County for an arraignment hearing on charges related to the death of 33-year-old South Korean woman Seehee Cho.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Mihee Lee appeared in court in Gwinnett County for an arraignment hearing on charges related to the death of 33-year-old South Korean woman Seehee Cho.

Two defendants accused of murder in a Gwinnett County case revolving around the small “Soldiers of Christ” group appeared in court Wednesday morning and pleaded not guilty.

The case centers around the Lee family of Lawrenceville, including three brothers and their mother, 54-year-old Mihee Lee. They are accused of holding 33-year-old South Korean woman Seehee Cho against her will in their basement, where she died as a result of beatings and starvation, their arrest warrants state. Mihee Lee and her 15-year-old son Junyeong Lee, who is being tried as an adult, were arraigned in person.

Wednesday’s hearing was largely procedural and businesslike, and neither Mihee Lee nor Junyeong Lee were required to speak. As the diminutive Mihee Lee slowly made her way to the courtroom exit, a man in the crowd tried to speak to her and was reprimanded by the bailiff, who firmly said, “No communicating.” Korean media later confirmed the man was Mihee Lee’s husband.

Five others, including the group’s founder, previously waived their hearings and entered pleas of not guilty, Gwinnett court records show. All seven defendants are charged as conspirators under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in connection with the death of Cho, whose body was found in the trunk of a car in September. Cho’s body weighed just 70 pounds when her remains were found.

The five defendants who waived their appearances are Joonho Lee, 26; Joonhyun Lee, 22; Hyunji Lee, 25; Gawon Lee, 26; and Eric Hyun, 26. Joonho and Joonyun Lee are brothers who have been described as leaders of the Soldiers of Christ, according to the Associated Press. Hyunji Lee is Joonho’s fiancee and Gawon Lee is their cousin. Hyun is not related to the Lee brothers and was recruited to the group, his lawyer told the AP.

On Wednesday morning, state prosecutors presented Mihee and Junyeong Lee with their indictments, warrants and a list of 77 witnesses who could be called at trial. The judge granted the attorneys for each of the Lees an additional 30 days to review those documents.

Each of the seven defendants is charged with murder, false imprisonment, concealing the death of another and tampering with evidence in addition to violating the state’s RICO act.

Cho came to the U.S. in the summer of 2023 in the hopes of joining the Soldiers of Christ religious group, Gwinnett police said at a news conference after the first arrests were made. Her body was found in the trunk of Hyun’s silver Jaguar outside Jeju Sauna, a popular Korean spa in Duluth, police said.

Soon after Cho arrived at the Lees’ Lawrenceville home in late July, she asked to quit the group, the AP reported. Instead, she was forced through a brutal “initiation” process that included beatings and ice baths, according to investigators. Police said Cho was deprived of food and water, and when they executed a search warrant at the Lees’ home, they found blood in the basement.

At the preliminary hearing, investigators shared messages between the defendants that indicated Cho had died Aug. 18, the AP reported. Her body was not found until Sept. 12.