Published March 25. 2014 4:00AM
Sitting at the defense table during his murder trial in New London Superior Court, Chihan Eric Chyung looks different than he did on the night he fatally shot his newlywed wife in their Norwich home.
The 50-year-old Norwalk native is clean-shaven and dressed in business attire with his smooth dark hair pulled into a short ponytail. He's calm and quiet.
The jury that will decide whether he is guilty of murder and first-degree manslaughter with a firearm has also seen the other Chyung, the one who called himself Eric.
The panel spent all day Monday, the fourth day of his trial, watching an eight-hour interrogation video of Chyung that began just a few hours after he shot Paige Anne Bennett at their home at 257 Norwich Ave. in Taftville on June 2, 2009.
Chyung, who said he had been working all day at a carpentry job in Norwalk, was dressed in jeans, T-shirt and work boots. His long hair looked matted and unkept. He had a Fu Manchu mustache.
Chyung admits he shot and killed Bennett, but asserts his Glock 9 mm discharged accidentally as he attempted to pack it into a suitcase and leave the home. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and first-degree manslaughter with a firearm and opted for a trial rather than accept the state's offer to plead guilty in exchange for a 45-year prison sentence.
The couple, who knew each other for about a year and had been married less than three weeks earlier, had argued at length that night, Chyung told police, about a fishing rod he had purchased on his way home from work and a set of tires she had bought.
"It seems such a small thing now," Chyung told detectives Peter Camp and Darren Powers as the three of them sat around a small table in an interrogation room at police headquarters. A few miles away, in Taftville, Bennett, 46, who worked as a patient care technician at The William W. Backus Hospital, lay on the kitchen floor, dead of a gunshot wound to the head.
Chyung was alternately expansive and despondent during the interrogation, chatting one moment about a custom pool deck he was building or his disdain for generic spaghetti, then slumping in his seat, covering his face with his arms and crying. He admitted he threw the house phone against the wall in anger that night, had "grabbed" his wife at one point and that the couple had moved throughout the home during the dispute. The house was in disarray, with items strewn about, when major crime squad detectives documented the scene with a video and still photos after the shooting.
While Chyung chain smoked cigarettes and chugged cup after cup of coffee in the interrogation room, Camp kept returning the conversation to the shooting and asking Chyung to demonstrate how it had occurred. Chyung repeatedly said he was unaware that Bennett was in the kitchen when he picked up the suitcase he had packed earlier and left by the door, put it on the table and attempted to place the gun inside. The detectives said he must have known Bennett was in the room, but Chyung said the argument was over and he was leaving.
Chyung estimated that Bennett was six feet away from him when he shot her, but the detectives told him that didn't make sense either. On the witness stand last week, a medical examiner testified that based on the stippling around the gunshot entry wound, it appeared Bennett had been shot from a distance of one to three feet. The detectives asked him multiple times how he had shot his wife if the gun was pointed downward. He said at one point that he wasn't placing the gun in the suitcase barrel first.
Sitting in the gallery watching the trial, Chyung's former in-laws have heard him say a few unflattering things about them during the interrogation, including one comment that he had to hide his jewelry from his wife's adult children.
On the other side of the aisle, his mother listened as Chyung told the investigators that his whole childhood was "hell" and complained that his parents had discarded most of his belongings, including his favorite GI Joe toy, during their divorce.
The jury is expected to watch the rest of the video when the trial resumes today. Prosecutor David J. Smith said he expects to rest his case before lunchtime. The defense will then put on its presentation, which may include Chyung taking the witness stand to testify on his own behalf.