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New London Superior Court Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed said Wednesday that she would issue a decision prior to the July 22 sentencing Chihan Eric Chyung on a defense motion to overturn Chyung's murder and manslaughter convictions.
A 12-member jury in March found Chyung, 51, guilty of murder and first-degree manslaughter with a firearm for the June 2, 2009, shooting death of his wife, Paige Bennett. Chyung admitted he shot his wife of just three weeks after they had a protracted argument at their Taftville home, but said the shooting was an accident. He said his Glock 9 mm discharged accidentally when he attempted to pack it in a suitcase.
His attorneys, Brian J. Woolf and Kathleen E. Rallo, in April filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal, saying the verdict contains legally inconsistent findings concerning Chyung's state of mind and citing cases in which higher courts have overturned such verdicts. They say the murder charge requires that the jury find Chyung acted intentionally, while the manslaughter charge requires a finding that he acted with reckless disregard for human life.
During oral arguments Wednesday, Rallo cited higher court decisions in cases with "inconsistent verdicts" that require the court to vacate the Chyung verdicts and send the case back for a new trial. When Jongbloed asked whether it would be acceptable to vacate the murder verdict and sentence Chyung solely on the manslaughter charge, Rallo said that would not be consistent. The maximum sentence for murder is 60 years. First-degree manslaughter with a firearm carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of 40.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney David J. Smith argued that the defense was aware of the charges that would go to the jury before deliberations began. He said the judge, at the defense's request, had added so-called "lesser included charges" of second-degree manslaughter with a firearm and criminally negligent homicide. He argued also that the murder and manslaughter charges were on the "continuum" of homicide crimes.
"You cannot allow a party to have an opportunity to correct an issue, then purposefully not correct it and use it to their benefit," Smith argued. Smith said no injustice has been done, based on the "substantial" amount of evidence and the type of evidence in the case.
The jury came back with the guilty verdicts after about three hours of deliberation, prompting the defense to claim Chyung could not receive due process in such a short time. Also, there was a brief period of confusion when the jury announced its verdict in open court. After the jury foreman said the panel had found Chyung guilty of murder, Court Officer Martha Jenssen asked him whether the jurors found Chyung guilty or not guilty of the manslaughter charge. The foreman initially responded, "not guilty," but changed his answer to "guilty" after the other jurors reminded him that they had agreed on a guilty verdict.
Also Wednesday, Chyung's attorneys asked if Chyung and his new wife, Dayna Deyulio Chyung, could have copies of his presentencing investigation prior to sentencing so they could study the document and prepare for the sentencing hearing. Jongbloed denied the request to provide the wife a copy and said she would "take under advisement" the request to provide Chyung a copy.