Published April 01. 2014 12:00PM Updated April 02. 2014 12:21AM
Paige Anne Bennett’s family waited five years for her husband’s murder trial, but the guilty verdict they sought came quickly once the 12-member jury began deliberating in the case of Chihan Eric Chyung.
Jurors, who began deliberating late Monday, spent just over three hours discussing the case before announcing late Tuesday morning that they had found Chyung, 50, guilty of murder and first-degree manslaughter with a firearm.
Chyung, who had been free on $1.25 million bond, was taken into custody after Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed increased his bond by $5 million. He faces up to 60 years in prison when he is sentenced May 28 on the murder charge. The manslaughter charge exposes him to an additional 40 years in prison, but attorneys in the case said that charge would likely be vacated in light of the murder conviction.
Chyung had conceded he fatally shot Bennett, 46, at their Taftville home on June 2, 2009, just three weeks after their wedding. He claimed his Glock 9 mm pistol, which had no external safety button, had discharged accidentally as he attempted to pack it into a suitcase and leave the home following a protracted argument.
Bennett’s family did not believe him.
Several of her survivors had watched the two-week trial in New London Superior Court but did not have time to make it to the courthouse after the jury sent out a note saying it had a verdict.
“I’m just glad the jury was able to see through all of the nonsense,” Bennett’s mother, Sheila Monter, said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “The whole thing is just so tragic and unnecessary and so hurtful to so many people and just plain wrong. It is so pointless.”
Bennett’s mother and her three surviving sisters, who are scattered throughout the country, discussed the verdict in a conference call with each other.
“We’re all very relieved with the verdict,” Alex Chew, the one sister who resides in Connecticut, said afterward. “It was a long time coming. I feel the prosecution did a superb job in presenting their case. Nothing will ever replace my sister, but at least the person who made the decision to take her life will never have a life of his own again.”
Bennett’s three children had also watched the trial. She had two grandchildren when she died, and four others have since been born. She had worked as a patient care technician at The William W. Backus Hospital.
Chyung, a carpenter who grew up in Fairfield County, hung his head after the jury announced the verdict. One of his attorneys, Kathleen E. Rallo, rubbed his back to comfort him. His other lawyer, Brian J. Woolf, said he was surprised and disappointed at the hastiness of the verdict because the jury had the two primary charges to consider and had the option of convicting Chyung of the lesser charges of second-degree manslaughter with a firearm or negligent homicide. They also had multiple exhibits and, an hour before the verdict, had sent out a note asking questions about some of the evidence, Woolf said.
“I think there was more than reasonable doubt here, particularly to (the murder charge), and it’s unfortunate they came to a hasty decision after deliberating less than four hours,” Woolf said.
It is unclear whether Chyung will appeal.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney David J. Smith, who prosecuted the case with Assistant State’s Attorney Marissa Goldberg, said the evidence, looked at in its totality, had added up to a conviction. Norwich police initially charged Chyung with manslaughter, but Smith upgraded the charge to murder after evaluating the case. Chyung had changed his story when questioned about his position during the shooting and how he had carried the gun, Smith said. He had left the scene for “a better part of an hour” before returning to call 911, Smith said. He told police he carried his gun unchambered, but the evidence showed the 9 mm’s magazine was fully loaded, with a round in the chamber, when he shot Bennett, according to Smith.
“I think the jury did a really good job evaluating the evidence during the course of the trial,” Smith said. “They paid attention to me, and Marissa and gave the defendant a fair evaluation of his version. Ultimately, they reached the right decision.”
Examiners from the state forensic laboratory had testified that DNA from Bennett and Chyung was found on the gun’s slide. Chyung said he did not know why his wife’s DNA would have been on the pistol. Medical examiner Frank Evangelista, who had performed an autopsy on Bennett, had described to the jury purple and blue bruises he observed on Bennett’s upper chest and shoulder area and her thighs. It was unclear how or when she had acquired the bruises.
Evangelista testified that he extracted a bullet that had entered Bennett’s forehead and traveled to the back right side of her skull. He said Bennett had “stippling,” or red burn marks around the entry wound, indicating she was likely shot from a distance of 1 to 3 feet. Chyung had told the police he was about 6 feet away from Bennett when his gun discharged.
Chyung had testified in his own defense, telling the jury how the couple had met at a biker bar in the summer of 2008, embarked on an intense love affair and married in May 2009. While his case was pending, Chyung had shed the biker look, shaving his Fu Manchu mustache and trimming his long dark hair, and had worn business attire to court.
During the trial, Chyung drove from Norwalk each day with his mother and his girlfriend, a woman he said he had known for 20 years who looked him up after hearing of his arrest. His mother, who had sat quietly throughout the trial, gasped when the jury foreman announced the panel had found Chyung guilty. The girlfriend, sitting in the front row, sobbed loudly and reached for tissues.