Published July 22. 2014 4:19PM Updated July 23. 2014 12:04AM
Chihan Eric Chyung, who insisted throughout his murder trial that he accidentally shot his newlywed wife, Paige Anne Bennett, at their Taftville home in June 2, 2009, was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years in prison.
The lengthy sentence for the 51-year-old carpenter brought some satisfaction to members of the victim’s family, who said that nevertheless they will never recover from the death of the 46-year-old Bennett, a striking redhead, mother of three children and grandmother.
The last time Shelia Monter saw her daughter was on her wedding day just 17 days before her death. Bennett said it was the happiest day in her life, Monter said, yet her husband shot her in the head 2½ weeks later. The realization of the terror her daughter felt was unbearable, Monter said.
“He needs to spend the rest of his life in a place where he can’t control anything,” she told the court.
Leah Gumbs, the victim’s daughter, said Chyung had backed her mother into a corner, giving her no chance to escape. Though she said nothing could make the family feel better, she asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence “so he’ll never be able to do this to another family.”
In handing down the sentence, New London Superior Court Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed denied defense motions to overturn the verdict on the basis that it contained legally inconsistent findings concerning Chyung’s state of mind and that the jury, which deliberated for just three hours, had not had sufficient time to deliver verdicts of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The 12-member jury in March had found Chyung guilty of murder and first-degree manslaughter with a firearm. His attorneys, Brian J. Woolf and Kathleen E. Rallo, had requested a new trial, saying the murder charge required that the jury find Chyung acted intentionally, while the manslaughter charge required a finding that he acted with reckless disregard for human life. Chyung claimed his Glock 9 mm discharged accidentally when he attempted to pack it in a suitcase, but the state contended he had intentionally killed his wife during of a protracted argument.
The judge vacated the manslaughter verdict before imposing the murder sentence and issued a memorandum of decision that said, in part, that the defense had participated in crafting the instructions and charges that went to the jury and that “manslaughter is indeed a lesser mental state of murder.” She wrote that three hours of deliberation, even if considered to be relatively short, was not insufficient under the circumstances.
In her sentencing remarks, Jongbloed told Chyung that while she appreciates and understands his position that he had accidentally shot his wife, the jury had found that he murdered her intentionally.
“I do not disagree with the jury’s decision,” Jongbloed said.
The judged noted also that after shooting his wife, Chyung had left the home for about two hours before returning and calling 911. The couple had argued at length about Bennett’s purchase of new tires and fishing gear that Chyung had bought, according to testimony, and neighbors testified at the trial that Chyung’s voice sounded “angry” and “vicious.”
The judge said the evidence led her to conclude that “the defendant essentially terrorized his wife before shooting her in the head.”
Prosecutor David J. Smith said Chyung was an angry man with an affinity for weapons.
“He had numerous opportunities to remove himself from the situation,” Smith said. “Had he removed himself, Paige would still be alive.”
Chyung chose not to address the court at sentencing, but two female friends and his new wife spoke on his behalf.
Free on bond leading up to his trial, Chyung had rekindled a relationship with Dayna Deyulio, a woman he had known for 20 years, and the couple married just before the jury delivered its guilty verdict, according to testimony.
Now known as Dayna Chyung, the wife stood up and said Chyung is a loving and caring man who continues to feel remorse and grieves for Bennett’s family.