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11/23/88 the People of the State of v. Jang Han Bae

November 23, 1988





531 N.E.2d 931, 176 Ill. App. 3d 1065, 126 Ill. Dec. 304 1988.IL.1698

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Earl E. Strayhorn, Judge, presiding.


PRESIDING JUSTICE JIGANTI delivered the opinion of the court. JOHNSON and LINN, JJ., concur.


Following a jury trial, the defendant was found guilty of three counts of murder, arson with intent to defraud an insurer, and arson without consent. The defendant was sentenced to 70 years' imprisonment. On appeal, the defendant raises issues concerning the admission of his confession at trial, the restriction on the number of peremptory challenges during voir dire, the failure to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, ineffective assistance of counsel, improper jury instructions, and various other trial errors.

The defendant was part owner of Vicstar Electronics, an electronic equipment business. Vicstar rented the first floor of a two-story building located at 2847 North Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. On February 1, 1985, the building caught on fire. Three firemen died while attempting to put out the fire.

Several hours after the fire, the defendant made a full confession to the police which revealed the following. The defendant and his business partner, Ho Soo Lee, wanted to get out of their electronic equipment business, which was insured for $250,000, because they were afraid it might go into bankruptcy. They planned to set fire to the building and then use the insurance money to pay their creditors.

In mid-January of 1985, the defendant and Lee approached a man named Suk Kim and asked him if he would set fire to their store. They discussed a plan whereby the fire would burn about one-third of the store and do smoke damage to any equipment which was in the store at the time. Suk Kim was paid $3,000. This money was taken from Vicstar's cash sales receipts.

Around noon on January 31, 1985, Kim called the defendant. They agreed to set the fire that night. Around 7:30 p.m. that evening, the defendant sent his two employees home. When Kim arrived between 8 and 8:30 p.m., the defendant gave him a key to the store and showed him how to set the fire alarm and the burglar alarm. Around 9 p.m., the defendant left the store, drove around in his car for a short time and then went home.

Around midnight, Kim called the defendant. Kim told the defendant that if nothing happened, he should just go to the store in the morning as usual. At 3:40 a.m., the defendant received a call from the company that monitored his alarm system. The caller said that the defendant's alarm had gone off and that he would send someone to check on the store. Approximately 30 minutes later, the defendant received another call from the same person, who said that the store across the street caught on fire but that the defendant's store was secure. At approximately 6 a.m., the defendant went to Vicstar and found that it was on fire.

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress this confession. The defendant claimed that he asked to speak to a lawyer on several occasions but the police ignored these requests. The trial Judge denied this motion. Details of the motion to suppress hearing are provided later in this opinion.

At trial, the State presented evidence to corroborate the defendant's confession. A certified arson investigator testified that the cause of the fire was arson. The investigator testified that the fire started when plastic bottles containing isopropyl alcohol were ignited. A police officer testified that two cases of bottles of isopropyl alcohol were found in Suk Kim's garage. One case was missing six bottles. The markings on the bottles in this case were similar to the markings on the bottles found at the scene of the fire. A police officer also testified that there were quite a few boxes of electronic equipment from Vicstar in Suk Kim's basement and garage.

Evidence regarding telephone records showed that two calls were placed from Kim's home to Vicstar on January 31, 1985, between 11:15 a.m. and noon. At 9:01 p.m. on January 31, 1985, a call was placed from Vicstar to Kim's home. At 10:30 p.m. a call was placed from Vicstar to a phone booth in Lincolnwood. At 11:49 p.m. a call was placed from Kim's home to the defendant's home.

Evidence regarding the defendant's financial status was also presented at trial. At the time of the fire, Vicstar owed $158,376 to the Korean Exchange Bank in Chicago and $58,000 to a distributor of electronic goods. Vicstar also had checks returned for insufficient funds for over $50,000.

Several witnesses gave testimony regarding the inventory of the store at the time of the fire. A creditor of Vicstar testified that he was at the store during the last week of January 1985 to see the defendant about a $58,000 debt and noticed that the inventory was "down considerably." A frequent buyer of Vicstar goods testified that on January 31, 1985, she went to the defendant's store and noticed that the showroom inventory was depleted. She also testified that when she inquired about buying 10 VCRs, the defendant seemed very anxious to make the sale that day and

The defendant testified and repudiated his confession. In addition to testifying that he asked for a lawyer before making any statements regarding his involvement with the fire, the defendant testified that his clothes were taken from him shortly after he arrived at the Area 5 police station and that he was given only a paper coverall to wear; that he thought he would not be allowed to speak with a lawyer and that he would be physically abused until he confessed because that is how he heard suspects in Korea were treated; and that the defendant made the statements which the police wanted him to make even though they were untrue because he felt he had no choice.

The State cross-examined the defendant about his testimony regarding the confession. The State presented a photo taken at 10:30 p.m. on February 1, 1985, in which the defendant was dressed in a leather jacket and a sweater. During cross-examination, the defendant admitted that parts of his confession were true. The defendant also admitted that he called an attorney when he first arrived at the police station but he told the police he was calling his insurance company. Finally, the defendant stated that he was not physically abused and never complained to anyone that he had been physically abused by the police in any way.

The defendant also testified that he did not want to get out of his business. The defendant testified that Vicstar's sales volume was continually increasing. He moved his business to the location on Milwaukee Avenue in 1983 because business was growing rapidly and more space was needed. He acknowledged that Vicstar was having some cash-flow problems because of trouble collecting accounts receivable. His partner went to Seoul, Korea, at the end of January to get some money for their business. The defendant gave his partner $3,000 in cash for travel expenses.

The defendant also testified that he lost everything because of the fire. He told the jury that he could not profit from the $250,000 insurance money because his inventory was over $450,000. According to the defendant, even if he was awarded the insurance money, by the terms of his note from the Korean Exchange Bank, the money would have to be paid directly to the bank. The ...

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