A New London Superior Court judge found enough evidence Wednesday to proceed with murder charges against a Norwich man accused of shooting his wife June 2, 2009, in their home.
Chihan "Eric" Chyung, 48, was initially charged with manslaughter in the death of Paige A. Bennett, but the state upgraded the charge to murder in June.
Judge Stuart M. Schimelman noted that the state's burden of proof during a probable cause hearing is much lower than that of a murder trial, where the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed.
During the two-day hearing, he said there was no question that Bennett died as a result of a weapon being discharged by Chyung.
The couple had been married for just three weeks when 46-year-old Bennett, a well-regarded nurse's aide at The William W. Backus Hospital, was killed.
Schimelman said the evidentiary hearing established that an argument occurred between Chyung and Bennett; there was a delay in seeking medical help; a weapon was used; and the nature of the wounds show she was shot in the head.
Schimelman said it will be up to the state to prove at trial if this is enough evidence to show that a murder had occurred. Under state law, a murder has been committed if "with the intent to cause the death of another person, the actor causes the death of such person."
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Wayne Carver took the witness stand Wednesday.
Carver said Bennett was shot above the left eye. Based upon the gunshot stippling abrasion and pattern, he said he thinks the distance between the gun muzzle and the wound was greater than 6 inches but less than 24 inches, indicating she was shot at close range.
On cross examination, defense attorney Kathleen E. Rallo asked Carver if he could tell if the wound was caused intentionally.
Carver said he could not.
The defense is not denying that Chyung shot Bennett. It contends that the shooting was an accident and that the weapon does not have a safety feature and is known to accidentally go off.
Gerard Petillo, an independent forensics examiner, was also called to the witness stand. At the time of Bennett's death he was working for the state crime lab as a firearms expert.
After examining the gun, Petillo said he determined that the Glock 9 mm handgun, the weapon in question, was functional. He said while the gun does not have an external safety, the gun's three internal safeties were working.
Petillo said in cases where the gun accidentally goes off, it is usually caused by a mechanical malfunction or user error. He said he could not render an opinion on whether the gun went off as a result of user error.
In arguing that the state had met its burden of proof, prosecutor David J. Smith reminded the judge that a neighbor had testified she heard Bennett and Chyung arguing. The neighbor said the victim screamed and then there was a bang.
He also said that Chyung admitted to shooting his wife and that a Norwich officer questioned his demeanor.
Defense attorney Brian J. Woolf argued that the state had not met his burden. He said there was no evidence to show that Chyung intentionally killed his wife.
He said Chyung was the one who called police, and he did not flee the scene.
"He consistently maintained that it was an accident," Woolf said.
After the hearing, Bennett's daughter, Leah Gumbs, said she felt all along that Chyung should have been charged with murder.
"I'm very happy that they are going to pursue the murder charge," Gumbs said.
Woolf entered a plea of not guilty to the murder charge on Chyung's behalf. His next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 27.
According to a police report in the case, Chyung told police he was packing to leave the house when he accidentally shot his wife.
"We were having an argument. I went to put the gun away," he said. "I bought a new fishing rod. She was mad."
The police arrived at 257 Norwich Ave. to find Chyung standing near his pickup truck, which was parked behind the house. He surrendered without incident and directed police to his Glock 9 mm handgun in the truck.