GWANGJU, South Korea- A South Korean court Tuesday will deliver its verdict — and possible death sentence — on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country’s worst peacetime disasters, as officials finally ended the long search for bodies.
After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony in the murder trial of Captain Lee Jun-Seok, the three-judge bench in the southern city of Gwangju must rule whether his “wilful negligence” led directly to the loss of 304 lives.
Prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for Lee, 69, after branding him an unrepentant liar who abandoned his ship in the clear knowledge that hundreds of trapped passengers — most of them schoolchildren — would die.
Although the death penalty is still passed in South Korea, nobody has been executed since 1997. Currently, there are some 60 people on death row.
Three senior crew members were also charged with homicide and face possible life sentences.
The captain and his fellow defendants, bound and handcuffed, were brought to the courthouse four hours before the 1:00pm (0400 GMT) hearing.
Lee, wearing glasses and a green prison uniform, was seen climbing a set of stairs, his close-cropped head bowed and with a close security escort.
Lee and his crew were vilified in the wake of the April 16 disaster and, with emotions running sky high across the country over the loss of so many young lives, some legal experts raised doubts over whether they could receive a fair trial.