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Captain of Korean ferry that killed over 300 escapes death penalty but sentenced to 36 years in prison

A three-judge panel said prosecutors failed to prove Lee Jun-Seok had acted intentionally.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE CAPTAIN OF the South Korean ferry that sank in April with the loss of more than 300 lives has been jailed for 36 years today, but acquitted of murdering those who died in the disaster.

In a ruling that followed five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a three-judge court said prosecutors, who had demanded the death penalty, failed to prove Captain Lee Jun-Seok, 69, had acted with an intention to kill.

However, he was convicted of gross negligence and dereliction of duty, including abandoning his vessel while hundreds of passengers — most of them schoolchildren — remained trapped on board.

Victims’ relatives who were present in the courtroom in the southern city of Gwangju, reacted furiously to the murder acquittal.

“Where is the justice?” one woman shouted at the judges, while others wept openly.

“It’s not fair. What about the lives of our children? They (the defendants) deserve worse than death,” screamed another.

s-korea-ferry-2 Source: Thejournal

Three other senior crew members, who had also faced homicide charges, were sentenced to jail terms of between 15 and 30 years.

“We find it hard to conclude that the defendants … were aware that all of the victims would die because of their actions and they had an intention to kill them,” Judge Lim Joung-Youb said in announcing the verdict.

“Therefore the murder charges are not accepted.”

lee-joong-seok-310x415 Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the sunken ferry. Source: AP Photo

However, Lim stressed that had Lee and his crew acted properly as soon as the Sewol ran into trouble, then many lives might have been saved.

Lee and his crew were vilified in the wake of the 16 April disaster and, with emotions running sky high across the country over the loss of so many young lives, some legal experts had raised doubts over whether they would receive a fair trial.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Captain and three top crew of sunken South Korean ferry charged with manslaughter

Read: Two dead and up to 295 missing after South Korean ferry sinks

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