A South Korean judge handed down a verdict on Thursday, convicting 23-year-old Choi Won-jong of murder for his involvement in a shocking car-and-stabbing attack that resulted in the deaths of two individuals and left 12 others injured. The incident took place last year in Bundang, a city located near Seoul.
Choi Won-jong faced charges for his actions during the unprovoked rampage, which began with him deliberately crashing his mother’s car into pedestrians outside a bustling department store in Bundang. Following the vehicular assault, Choi proceeded to carry out a stabbing spree within the confines of the department store building.
Prosecutors had pushed for capital punishment for Choi Won-jong, who was apprehended in August after deliberately crashing his vehicle into pedestrians in a bustling recreational area in Seongnam.
The harrowing incident resulted in the deaths of two women who succumbed to their injuries while receiving medical treatment, while an additional 12 individuals sustained injuries either from the car collision or the stabbing spree.
Following the random knife assault by Choi, occurring just approximately two weeks subsequent to another lethal random stabbing rampage in southern Seoul, concerns among the public regarding arbitrary assaults were exacerbated. This event instilled fear that individuals could become targets of terrorist acts in public spaces, prompting a surge in online threats of copycat stabbing rampages.
The court rejected Choi’s plea for leniency, which asserted that his chronic schizophrenia rendered him mentally vulnerable during the attacks. Prosecutors had pushed for the death penalty in Choi’s case.
Acknowledging Choi’s diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, the court recognized that his delusional beliefs, fueled by his mental condition, led him to harbor the false notion that he was under surveillance by a clandestine group of stalkers.
Consequently, the court deemed it necessary for Choi to wear an electronic monitoring device for the next three decades, perceiving him as a potential threat for committing similar offenses in the future. Under South Korean legal statutes, an individual serving a life sentence becomes eligible for parole after 20 years.
Choi has a seven-day window to challenge his conviction and sentence. His assaults occurred shortly after another incident in which a knife-wielding assailant attacked at least four pedestrians in Seoul, resulting in one fatality.
While South Korea maintains stringent regulations on firearm possession, regulations governing knives are relatively lax. In response to the Seongnam incident, President Yoon Suk Yeol strengthened law enforcement presence in crowded areas and expanded surveillance of social media and online forums to identify potential threats.