Beong Kwun Cho Found Guilty of Manslaughter in Suicide Pact with Friend

Beong Kwun Cho is guilty of voluntary manslaughter in his childhood friend's death.
Beong Kwun Cho is guilty of voluntary manslaughter in his childhood friend's death.
Anaheim Police Department

In one of the strangest assisted suicide cases ever, Beong Kwun Cho was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter last week and now faces up to 21 years in state prison at his scheduled Sept. 23 sentencing hearing.

This was the case where a soured business relationship and the rape of Cho's wife were said to be at the root of the fatal shooting of Yeon Woo Lee, a visiting South Korean who was shot execution style before his body was found in an industrial part of Anaheim in January 2011.

What came out in court was elements of the defense and prosecution theories played a role in the killing.

Cho and Lee, who had been friends since elementary school, did not have a soured business relationship but the visitor did leave behind a wife and a failing hotel business in South Korea and he wanted to commit suicide, Deputy District Attorney Scott Simmons and Assistant Public Defender Robert Kohler ultimately agreed.

Because taking one’s own life is considered shameful in Korean society, Lee wanted his friend Cho to kill him and make it look like a botched robbery attempt. They shopped for a weapon and practiced shooting it.

As one might expect, Cho got cold feet about killing his childhood buddy, but Lee bullied him into completing the act. Kneeling down in a gutter in that industrial area, he told Cho that he had raped his wife, would do so again and then rape the Chos' daughter. That's when Cho pulled the trigger.

Cho's wife, who is now divorcing her husband, confirmed Lee had raped her three times but that she had not told anyone.

So, as the truth came out, it was less a premeditated shooting—although Lee and Cho had planned for such an end—as it was something terrible in the heat of passion.

Cho, 56, of Cerritos, was originally charged with a felony count of murder with a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a firearm causing death that, with a conviction, could have sent him to state prison for 50 years to life.

The jury sidestepped that as well as second-degree murder and opted for manslaughter.

Simmons reportedly said he found that to be a fair verdict.


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