The Army prosecution decided to file murder charges against four soldiers who allegedly beat a private first class to death in April, officials said Tuesday, reversing its initial stance that manslaughter charges should be leveled against them.
The prosecutorial department of the Third Army said that considering the defendants had better-than-average medical knowledge as they used to be students of medicine-related colleges, they might have predicted that their beatings could cause the PFC, surnamed Yun, to die.
"Although the defendants were aware that Yun was in very poor health on the day of the crime (due to their beatings), their cruel beatings continued," said Col. Kim Jin-gi, the legal chief of the Third Army, during a press briefing.
"Including the fact that they sufficiently predicted that Yun could die due to continued beatings and abuses, we have secured ample evidence and circumstances to presume that 'willful negligence' resulted in the homicide."
The prosecution said it pushed first for a murder charge, but also sought a secondary manslaughter charge in case the court did not recognise that the defendants had homicidal intent when they assaulted Yun.
The prosecution said previously that the defendants did not intend to kill him given that they conducted cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Yun when he fell unconscious. But amid rising public criticism of the abuses, the prosecution conducted further legal deliberations and decided on the murder charge.
As the cause of Yun's death, the prosecution pointed to "crash syndrome" and "secondary shock." It initially said that Yun died after the defendants forced him to swallow dumplings, which caused his airway to be blocked and led to brain damage.
"Crash syndrome" refers to a medical condition in which various organs malfunction as toxic substances that are created due to damaged muscle tissues fenter the bloodstream. Secondary shock results from massive blood loss.
The prosecution also added additional charges against the four defendants.
One of them, surnamed Lee, was additionally charged with preventing Yun, a devout Christian, from going to church in March. He was also found to have forced him to bark and act like a dog and prevented him from filing a complaint about the abuses with the senior officials at his unit.
A series of hazing and abuse cases have triggered public outrage. To shore up public confidence, the military set up a panel to reform the outmoded barracks culture and stamp out abuses, particularly at frontline units.