State sets scene at Chyung murder trial with first responders, 911 recording, crime scene photos

Chihan Eric Chyung arrives at New London Superior Court with  his lawyer, Kathleen Rallo, for the first day of his trial Wednesday, March 19, 2014.  Chyung is accused of fatally shooting his newlywed wife of three weeks in June 2009.
Chihan Eric Chyung arrives at New London Superior Court with his lawyer, Kathleen Rallo, for the first day of his trial Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Chyung is accused of fatally shooting his newlywed wife of three weeks in June 2009. Dana Jensen/The Day

Jurors heard a despondent Chihan Eric Chyung tell a dispatcher on June 2, 2009, that he accidentally shot his wife as Chyung's murder trial got underway Wednesday in New London Superior Court.

The 911 recording sets up the dispute at question in the trial — whether Chyung intentionally or unintentionally killed Paige Anne Bennett on June 2, 2009. The couple had married three weeks earlier.

The jury — and Bennett's family members in the courtroom gallery — also saw for the first time photographs of Bennett lying on her kitchen floor with a pool of blood near her long, blond hair.

Chyung, 50, of Norwalk, is charged with murder and first-degree manslaughter with a firearm, crimes that could land him a 100-year prison sentence if he is convicted and receives the maximum sentence. He admits he shot Bennett but says his Glock 9 mm pistol, which has no external safety feature, discharged accidentally when he went to pack it into a suitcase. His attorneys have asked Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed to allow the jury to consider the lesser charge of negligent homicide, which is a misdemeanor, during their deliberations.

"I shot my wife. I killed her," Chyung told a Norwich police dispatcher that night. "The gun went off. The gun went off."

The dispatcher kept Chyung on the phone as officers rushed to his home at 257 Norwich Ave. in Taftville. Chyung, crying, told the dispatcher he was in his Ford F350 pickup truck and that the gun was in the back door of the truck. She asked him several times if his wife was breathing, and he responded, "No, she's dead. Oh my God!"

"We were having an argument," he said. "I was packing my gun. We just got married. I loved her."

He begged the dispatcher, "get me out of here," saying he didn't want to see his wife's body. A short time later, officers arriving at the scene could be heard in the background ordering Chyung to get on the ground.

Prosecutors David J. Smith and Marissa Goldberg introduced the 911 recording and crime scene photos through first responders to the scene, including Norwich patrolman Thomas Lazzaro, paramedic Douglas Hull and patrolman Damien Martin.

Lazzaro said after officers took Chyung into custody outside the home without resistance, he and other officers forced entry into the back door and found Bennett's body in the kitchen. The house was in disarray, with objects strewn about, he testified.

Hull testified that when he went into the home and saw Bennett lying on the kitchen floor, it was obvious that efforts to resuscitate her would be futile. He said he didn't touch the body so he would not contaminate the scene. He called a physician at The William W. Backus Hospital, who pronounced Bennett dead at the scene. A medical examiner would later rule that she died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Martin testified that Chyung told Sgt. Corey Poore that he and Bennett had argued about the expense of a fishing pole he had bought and that he decided to leave the house for the night when the dispute escalated. He said he took his gun because he wanted to keep it in his control.

"He stated as he packed his suitcase on the kitchen table, his handgun accidentally discharged and struck his wife," Martin testified.

The prosecution showed the jury photos of the small kitchen table, which was covered with items, including liquor bottles and papers.

As Martin transported Chyung to the police department, Chyung explained the shooting several times and talked about a variety of topics, wavering between crying and whimpering to being "cool, calm and collected," Martin testified.

Chyung told Martin he had an associate degree, worked as a master carpenter and liked to target shoot and ski. He said he had a pistol permit at age 21 but had let it lapse. His attorney, Brian Woolf, has said Chyung owned the 9 mm legally because gun owners can keep their firearms at home without a permit to carry them.

"He said his friends felt he and his wife had a fairy-tale love affair," Martin testified.

Martin stood up to show the jury how Chyung demonstrated the incident, using his left hand to open the suitcase and pointing the gun down, toward the bag, with his right hand.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Kathleen Rallo, Martin testified that he heard Chyung explain the incident several times and that his story remained consistent.

Several members of Bennett's family, including her mother and children, are attending the trial. Chyung's mother was also in the courtroom, and his girlfriend, who may be called as a witness, has been sitting in the hallway.

Also testifying Wednesday was Wal-Mart employee Carmen Devost, who said Bennett had come to the store about 5 p.m. to purchase tires. Devost testified that after a male called about the sale, Bennett returned to the store and was issued a refund. She said Bennett's eyes were red during both visits to the store, but Bennett didn't seem upset. The man on the phone was pleasant, Devost testified.

Chyung told police that he left after the shooting, then returned after he spoke with a friend who advised him to return and call the police. On Wednesday, the state called two neighbors who testified they heard a man and woman arguing in the Chyung home, then heard a scream and a bang. Amber Levesque said she and her boyfriend had watched a movie in their bedroom on the second floor of 253 Norwich Ave., turning it off at about 9:30 p.m. The argument went on for about 20 minutes, Levesque testified, then she heard a female scream followed 15 second later by a loud bang. She said she heard a door slam about 2 minutes later. She said she tried to go to sleep, and her boyfriend's mother came into the room between 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. to tell Levesque and her boyfriend the police were at the home next door.

The boyfriend, Richard Hernandez, described a similar version of events but was nervous and confused on the witness stand and could not remember the time frame of the incident. He said at one point that he was sure the bang was a gunshot, but then he said he could not be sure.

The trial, which is expected to last about two weeks, resumes today.

k.florin@theday.com

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