Is It Still Murder If You Shoot Your Friend in the Head Because He Asked You?

A strange form of what he claims to be assisted suicide, a man shot his friend of 40 years in the back of the head, claiming he only did so because his friend asked him to. Originally claiming he had nothing to do with the victim’s death, the man changed his tune after a couple hours into his interrogation and then claimed it was a staged suicide.

Beong Kwun Cho and Yeon Woo Lee were long-time friends, so close that Cho’s daughters even considered Lee an uncle, according to Cho. While being interrogated for Lee’s murder, Cho claimed a few months prior to his death Lee asked him for a favor.

Cho told officers that Lee expressed his business was failing, his marriage was falling apart, and that he wanted to die, but didn’t want to disgrace and burden his family with the trauma of a suicide.  Cho further claimed that Lee said he was unable to hire a “hit man” to complete the job, so he, instead, asked Cho to do it.  Don’t worry, it gets even stranger. Cho

According to Cho, Lee even orchestrated his own death. Lee bought the gun and ammunition, scouted possible sites for the death, arranged for the duo to attend target practice at a local gun range, and even went as far as taking Cho to buy black knit gloves and size 13 shoes as props to make his death look like a robbery gone bad, as well as chose the date of his death.

His wife’s birthday, nonetheless.  After driving separately to the location, Cho claims his friend flattened his own tire, ransacked his own car, smoked a cigarette, handed Cho the revolver, and knelt with his back before Cho to die.

Keep talking to me so that I won’t know when I’m being shot. And while I’m talking…shoot me in the middle of our conversation.”

The story isn’t entirely implausible, but Cho may not have been so innocent after all. After pressing him further, the investigating detective discovered a whole slew of slew of reasons Cho had for hating Lee. Among the motives driving his hatred, Cho claimed his family lost their home to debt collectors as a result of a bad business deal Lee made for him. He also claimed Lee was blackmailing him and sexually assaulted his wife.

Would you believe him?

Is Assisted Suicide an Affirmative Defense to Murder?

Generally, to be guilty of a crime, you need to both commit the crime that’s prohibited by law and have the intent or mental state required by law when committing the crime. The latter is where an affirmative defense could come in.  Affirmative defenses are legal excuses or justifications for committing a crime.  Although states vary in what they consider a valid affirmative defense, generally they include:

  • Self defense
  • Necessity defense
  • Entrapment defense
  • Insanity defense
  • Intoxication defense (this one’s a bit trickier and some states won’t recognize it)

As far as I know, shooting someone in the head just because they asked you to doesn’t qualify. In fact, the crime of murder doesn’t care what the motive is and no law allows mitigating factors for a mercy killing. In People v. Roberts, a Michigan Supreme Court case from the 20’s, upheld a murder conviction of a man that gave poison to his very ill wife because she asked him to.

Nevertheless, motive always plays a role in the decision of the jury and this case was no different.

Jury Bought Cho’s Story, At Least Partially

After a two-week trial, the jury found Cho guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a much lesser charge than murder.

Cho’s main argument at trial centered around the fact he claimed he had no intention of actually going through with Lee’s plan up until the very moment he pulled the trigger, claiming that he only did so in a “heat of the passion” moment because Lee was saying upsetting things about his wife and daughter.  Robert Kohler, Cho’s attorney, argued the jury needed to understand the importance of the Korean culture and the effect suicide has on bringing shame upon an entire family, not just the one that commits the act.

The state argued otherwise, that Cho had a clear intention to follow through with the plan when he arrived at the scene the night of the killing.

Did the Jury Get It Right?

The fact that Cho drove to the location, put on size 13 shoes and a pair of black gloves, is telling of the fact that he at least had some inclination to follow through prior to pulling the trigger. Crimes committed in the “heat of the passion” are commonly used as mitigating factors in crimes, but there seems to be plenty of evidence in this instance to show this wasn’t the case and that shouldn’t be enough to mitigate murder down to manslaughter.

Cho is set to be sentenced on September 23rd and faces a possible 21 years in prison, which is significantly less than the possible life sentence, or even death, he faced under the murder charge.

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