Chyung fields tough questions in second day on stand at murder trial

Chihan Eric Chyung remained on the witness stand all day Wednesday at his murder trial in New London Superior Court, fielding gently posed questions from his attorney before encountering a more aggressive line of questioning under cross-examination by the prosecution.

Chyung, 50, is on trial for murder and manslaughter. He claims he accidentally shot his wife Paige Anne Bennett as he was packing his Glock 9 mm pistol into a suitcase at their home in Taftville following a lengthy argument. She died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Chyung took the witness stand late Tuesday, smiling as he testified about the "intense love affair" that had led up to his wedding with Bennett. Returning to the stand Wednesday, his expression was more solemn as he answered his attorney's questions about the shooting.

Prefacing many of her questions with, "I know this is hard, Eric," defense attorney Kathleen E. Rallo asked Chyung several times to recount the events of June 2, 2009. She handed him a toy gun, noting that they had previously discussed that he was "uncomfortable" handling the actual weapon he had used that night, and asked him to show the jury how the shooting occurred.

Using the suitcase that he had packed on the night of the shooting, Chyung held the toy gun by the slide in what he said he considered that night to be a "less aggressive" manner than holding it by the grip, or in shooting position. He said he was holding the gun and using both hands to unzip the suitcase when the gun discharged. He said he didn't realize there was a bullet in the chamber.

"As far as I was concerned, I guess I was holding the gun from the top, but obviously I got near the trigger at this point," he testified. He called his mishandling of the gun "careless and stupid."

Chyung said he did not hear his wife scream and that after the shooting, he tried to figure out how to kill himself, having "lost everything."

During his direct testimony, Chyung referred to the shooting as when "the gun discharged." Prosecutor David J. Smith, who alleges Chyung intentionally shot his wife, used different language when he began cross-examination.

"How long had you been married to Paige before you shot her in the head?" Smith asked. "Three weeks," Chyung responded.

Chyung's attorney had noted during direct examination that Chyung avoided looking at crime scene photographs of his dead wife. Smith placed a close-up of the victim's bloody gunshot wound on a projector while asking Chyung to explain why pieces of a plastic ice cube tray were scattered throughout the kitchen, one of them under the victim's head.

Chyung said he didn't know how a plastic ice cube tray got broken into several pieces and scattered throughout the kitchen, nor did he know who had ripped up a wedding photo of the couple that was found under a pair of broken eyeglasses on the bedside nightstand from which he said he retrieved his gun.

Smith placed the plastic gun back in Chyung's hands and confronted him with what he said were inconsistencies in Chyung's testimony. Smith said that on the videotaped interrogation of Chyung by Norwich police, Chyung is shown numerous times putting the gun in the suitcase with the barrel down. Detective Darren Powers told Chyung during the interrogation that the police were "having trouble" understanding how he was holding the barrel of the gun down when he shot his wife.

"Is that when you changed your story?" Smith asked. Smith contended also that Chyung never told Norwich police the shooting occurred while he was unzipping the suitcase.

Chyung said his story has maintained consistent.

Smith asked Chyung to pinpoint his wife's position at the time of the shooting, noting that Chyung had told the police he met Bennett's eyes after he shot her, thought she was fine, and then watched her fall to the floor.

Smith pointed to other sections of the eight-hour interrogation video, such as when Chyung told Detective Peter Camp he had "a bad temper," and when Chyung told the detectives about an encounter during which he used a vulgar expletive during an argument with a female neighbor at his former residence in Milford.

Smith is expected to show portions of the interrogation video to illustrate his questions when the trial resumes today.

"We'll let the video speak for itself," Smith repeated several times.

k.florin@theday.com

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