Chyung pleads guilty to murdering wife in Norwich ahead of second trial

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Chihan Eric Chyung pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering his wife, Paige Anne Bennett, in June 2009 and will be sentenced next month to 25 years in prison.

The court-recommended prison term is 15 years shorter than the 40-year sentence that Chyung, who is 55, received after being convicted in 2014 of shooting his newlywed wife at their Norwich home.

The state Supreme Court overturned the conviction based on a legal issue, and Chyung's case was headed for a second trial in New London Superior Court when he pleaded guilty.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney David J. Smith said that during jury selection, which was completed Wednesday, he and defense attorney Hubert Santos continued to engage in plea negotiations before Judge Hillary B. Strackbein. 

Smith said Chyung accepted a plea offer that Strackbein extended and pleaded guilty to murder. He pleaded under the Alford Doctrine, which indicates he does not agree with the state's version of the case.

Bennett and Chyung had been married for less than three weeks when Chyung shot Bennett at their home in Taftville. He claimed his Glock 9mm pistol, which had no external safety button, discharged accidentally as he attempted to pack it into a suitcase and leave the home following a protracted argument.

Bennett's daughter, Leah Gumbs, said by phone Wednesday afternoon that she was in court for the plea and it was good to hear Chyung say he was guilty of killing her mother. She said she plans to address the court at Chyung's sentencing on March 26.

Chyung has to serve every day of his sentence, since there is no parole for murder, and has more than 18 years of prison time remaining after calculating time served, Gumbs said.

"My mom was a beautiful and smart and funny and caring woman who deserved more than this," Gumbs said. "At what point do I decide how much time her life is worth?"

Bennett, 46 when she was killed, was a mother of three. Gumbs said there are now nine grandchildren in the family that her mother never met and another grandchild "on the way."

"I really don't think that justice has necessarily been served, but it's definitely a burden off our shoulders," Gumbs said. "If he had taken it to trial, there would still be appeals and there would be another 10 or 20 years."

Chyung had been convicted of both murder and manslaughter at his first trial in 2014. The state Supreme Court ruled that the guilty verdicts for both manslaughter and murder were legally inconsistent. 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.

k.florin@theday.com

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