After many courtroom hearings over two years, Jung Choi and Sang Ji, who are accused of a December 2017 murder, are set to go to trial on March 9.
Hollister resident Sang Ji, 50, and South Korean national Jung Choi, 46, appeared in San Benito County Superior Court for pre-trial conference hearings on Jan. 10. They will be tried together on charges of first-degree murder in the death of Ji’s wife, Yoon “Clara” Ji. They both have remained in custody at San Benito County Jail.
Ji entered the courtroom first, as his court-appointed attorney Arthur Cantu told Superior Court Judge Steven Sanders that his client was rejecting a plea bargain offer from the district attorney’s office and said his client was prepared for a 15- to 20-day jury trial. Sanders agreed on the trial date and scheduled a trial confirmation hearing for Feb. 21.
Even though Ji speaks English, he spoke to Sanders through his Korean interpreter.
“Your honor, I’m glad this is proceeding to a jury trial where all the facts will come out,” the interpreter translated. “To assure a fair trial, I would ask for a change of venue.”
Sanders said it was up to his attorney to file that motion.
“There’s a lot of information that would have to be presented, and this comes as somewhat of a surprise, Mr. Ji, since your attorney has indicated that there is no impediment for trial,” Sanders said.
This is not the first time that Ji has attempted a legal maneuver to delay or derail his trial, nor is it the first time he has been offered a plea bargain. In July, Ji turned down an offer to have the first-degree murder charge against him reduced to voluntary manslaughter. He did so without consulting his public defender at the time, Gregory LaForge, who then stepped down (Cantu took over the defense).
In March 2018, Ji accepted an offer to take life without parole off the table before showing San Benito County Sheriff deputies where Yoon’s body was buried.
In May 2019, Ji unsuccessfully tried to have himself declared incompetent to stand trial.
At one hearing he attempted to convince Sanders that he did not speak English well enough to understand his Miranda Rights, even though he had been observed throughout the process ignoring translators while speaking directly to his attorneys.
Ji also told investigators that Choi bludgeoned Yoon to death as he stood outside their home and watched through a glass door.
Choi entered and bowed to the interpreter and her defense attorney Harry Damkar after Ji was taken from the courtroom. Damkar asked Sanders to delay her pre-trial proceedings until Jan. 24 to have a translator available in order to discuss an offer made to Choi. Deputy District Attorney Joel Buckingham said he was aware of the timing issues for the translator and that he was willing to continue to that date.
Unlike Ji, Choi has remained mostly silent for the past two years, always listening to and communicating through her translators.
Ji and Choi were arrested in December 2017, four days after one of Ji’s daughters filed a missing persons report for their mother. According to a report by the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office, the daughters were suspicious of Ji’s claim that his wife had returned to South Korea. One daughter became increasingly concerned after relatives in South Korea had told her Yoon Ji had not returned.
Other related BenitoLink articles: