Death penalty withdrawn in ‘gruesome’ Gwinnett double murder case

Ki Song Kim, 49, is on trial for murder and aggravated assault.

Credit: Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office

Ki Song Kim, 49, is on trial for murder and aggravated assault.

As prosecutors opened the murder trial of Ki Song Kim on Tuesday morning, they admitted they still didn’t know what would have motivated Kim to brutally kill Young Chan Choi, 63, and Sun Hee Choi, 59, in their Duluth home.

“One thing is going to be missing from this case … Why did this happen?” said Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney John Warr in his opening statement. “I am at a loss.”

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The Chois, a married couple who ran a successful restaurant supply company, had given Kim a job and $6,000 to buy a car shortly before their deaths. On July 27, 2013, Kim showed up on the Chois doorstep with a box of apples, a Korean custom for apologizing.

After they welcomed him into their home, Kim beat and stabbed each of them multiple times, Warr said. Young Chan Choi died from a stab wound to the heart and Sun Hee Choi bled out after her throat was slashed, severing two main arteries and her larynx.

“Her neck, her throat area, had been filleted,” Warr said.

Kim, 49, is charged with two counts each of murder and aggravated assault. The district attorney's office had intended on seeking the death penalty against Kim, but withdrew that motion Tuesday morning because Kim agreed to a stipulated bench trial. That means Kim and his attorneys agreed to admit certain pieces of evidence as fact before the trial began, and to have Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader determine guilt instead of a jury.

A defendant agreeing to admit the amount of evidence by stipulation which Kim did is “rare,” Warr said. That evidence included whether Kim’s phone was in his possession on the day of the killings and that Kim was the person who purchased the apples that were brought to the Chois’ home.

Kim had admitted being at the house when the murders occurred, but denied involvement upon his July 2013 arrest. His defense maintained that in their opening statement Tuesday.

“One thing the state and the defense agree on is the gruesomeness of the crime,” said defense attorney Lisa Wolff.

If convicted of one or both of the murder charges, Kim can only be sentenced to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, since the death penalty will not be pursued. Each aggravated assault charge carries a minimum sentence of one year and a maximum of 20 years.

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When officers arrived to the Chois’ home, blood was spilled and spattered all over the house’s first floor, Warr said.

“There was blood on the driveway, blood on the steps, blood in the foyer, blood in the dining room, blood in the laundry room and blood in the kitchen,” Warr said in his opening statement.

There were bloody footprints, streaks of blood on the walls and blood splatter on the ceiling, evidence photos showed.

Drawers in desks and dressers throughout the house had been pulled out and rifled through, as if somebody was looking for something, evidence photos showed. A “religious item” had been taken, but nothing else —including $100,000 in cash that was stored in the basement — was taken, former Gwinnett County Detective David Brucz testified.

Kim had told police that he was with a man named Sam Choi when he brought the apples to the house, and Sam Choi “went crazy” and began stabbing Young Chan Choi and Sun Hee Choi. A neighbor saw Kim and another man arrive at the home with the apples, but police have not arrested or identified as a suspect anyone named Sam Choi in relation with this case in the more than four years since the killings occurred.

Neither the prosecution nor the defense addressed the fact that Sam Choi shares a last name with the victims. Warr said Sam Choi may be a fake name or a person who does not exist.

The trial is expected to conclude Wednesday. The defense will only put forward one witness for their case: the defendant, Ki Song Kim.

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