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The private attorneys representing accused murderer Chihan "Eric" Chyung will not obtain state funds to hire experts to assist in Chyung's defense.
New London Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Clifford on Tuesday denied a motion by attorneys Brian J. Woolf and Kathleen E. Rallo to order the state to provide an estimated $23,750 for experts to help prepare the case for trial. Saying it was a case of first impression, Clifford ruled that the court had no authority to order the payment and that someone who hired a private attorney has no right to access public funds for his defense.
Chyung, 48, is awaiting trial for fatally shooting Paige A. Bennett on June 2, 2009, at their Norwich home. The couple had been married for just three weeks when 46-year-old Bennett, a nurse's aide at The William W. Backus Hospital, was killed. The state initially charged Chyung with manslaughter but upgraded the charge to murder in June 2011.
After his arrest, Chyung applied for a public defender and was assigned one after he was found to be indigent. According to court testimony, he eventually retained Woolf and Rallo after cashing in a $20,000 life insurance policy, selling a truck and obtaining $10,000 from family members. The attorneys said they were retained while Chyung was charged with manslaughter and that he paid them $45,000, which included a $35,000 fee and $10,000 for expenses. A murder case would cost $50,000 to $75,000, they said.
The attorneys said that Chyung has no more money, and they need funds from the state to hire an investigator, a ballistics expert, a forensic pathologist and a forensic computer expert. Woolf said the prosecution has "unfettered access" to experts and that the courts have always encouraged a "level playing field," particularly with indigent defendants.
The state alleges Chyung intentionally shot his wife with a Glock 9 mm handgun, while the defense contends the shooting was accidental and that they can prove the Glock pistol was prone, by design, to accidental discharges.
The judge said no Connecticut case has dealt clearly with the issue and that other states have different approaches. Clifford said he was going along with the state of Maryland, which has ruled that a defendant can't have a private attorney and yet have access to state funds.
"I think in Connecticut, we're satisfied (with) providing indigent defendants with access to public defender services," Clifford said. "The defendant has essentially opted out of the public defender system."
- Karen Florin