NEW YORK – A spurned lover who poured gasoline on his former girlfriend and set her on fire in front of her 10-year-old son has pleaded guilty to her murder, prosecutors said.
Construction worker Sung Chul Jo admitted Tuesday that he doused Mi Rae Bae on a Queens sidewalk before igniting her with a cigarette lighter and then grabbing her as she was dropping off her son at summer school.
A passer-by put out the fire with a tarpaulin from his van, but Bae, 45, lapsed into a coma and died 10 days later from her burns and other injuries, District Attorney Richard Brown said.
Jo, who was distraught that Bae was leaving him, suffered burns over most of his body, was in a coma for months and was badly disfigured in the July 18, 2003, incident. He woke from the coma asking where his fingers were because he couldn't remember what happened, his lawyer said.
"It's an extremely tragic situation," attorney John Scarpa said. "He's got no fingers, no ears, no lips, all from the fire."
A witness overheard Jo, 49, telling Bae he loved her, wanted to live with her and wanted to die with her, prosecutors said.
"The defendant's admission of guilt in the violent death of his ex-girlfriend ensures that he is held responsible for his actions and that he will serve a lengthy prison sentence," Brown said.
Following the plea, a judge indicated he would sentence Jo, who is from South Korea, next month to 15 years to life in prison.
Jo, who has had more than a dozen operations because of his injuries, will need medical care in prison and probably will be deported when his sentence ends.