SEOUL, South Korea – An American charged with murdering a Seoul university student in 1997 has been extradited to South Korea to face a new trial in a case that has generated widespread interest and sparked a movie.
Arthur Patterson faces charges he fatally stabbed Cho Choong-pil at a Burger King restaurant in Itaewon, an entertainment district near the U.S. military headquarters in Seoul.
Initially his friend, U.S. citizen Edward Lee, was sentenced to life in prison for the killing before an appeals court later reduced that to 20 years. Patterson initially got an 18-month jail term for destroying evidence and possessing a dangerous weapon.
But South Korea's Supreme Court later ordered a new trial, and a lower-level court acquitted Lee, citing a lack of evidence. It's not clear where Lee is now. Patterson and Lee, both teenagers at the time, accused each other of killing Cho, 22, who was found with multiple stab wounds in the restaurant's bathroom and died on the way to a hospital.
Patterson was set free in a special amnesty before finishing his prison term. Prosecutors, meanwhile, had launched a new investigation of Patterson and banned him from leaving the country until all court proceedings were finished. But he fled to the U.S. while South Korean authorities were trying to renew a travel ban on him, according to South Korea's Justice Ministry.
Calls to extradite Patterson grew after the release of a 2009 movie about the murder case. In 2011, prosecutors charged Patterson with murder, saying they had new evidence, Justice Ministry officials said.
"It's not right that they (Cho's family members) have to keep going through this pain over and over and over, but it's not right that I'm here either. I'm still shocked that I'm even here," Patterson told reporters after arriving at Incheon International Airport, just west of Seoul.
A Seoul district court will soon set a trial date, a Justice Ministry official said on condition of anonymity citing office rules. The official said it is not clear if Lee will testify at Patterson's trial.
Patterson was in South Korea in 1997 because his father was a civilian employee of the U.S. military at the time. There are 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea, and crimes involving U.S. soldiers are a long-running source of anti-American sentiments among South Koreans.