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South Korea prosecutors seek death penalty for captain of doomed ferry

By Ju-min Park

South Korean prosecutors on Monday sought the death penalty for the captain of a ferry that capsized in April, leaving 304 people, most of them school children, dead or missing in a trial of 15 crew who escaped the vessel before it sank.

Lee Joon-seok, 68, who has been charged with homicide, should be sentenced to death for failing to carry out his duty, which in effect amounted to homicide, the prosecution told the court, resting its case in a trial that has taken place amid intense public anger towards the crew.

Lee was among 15 accused of abandoning the sharply listing ferry after telling the passengers to stay put in their cabins. Four, including the captain, face homicide charges.

The rest face lesser charges, including negligence. A three-judge panel is expected to announce its verdicts in November. No formal pleas have been made but Lee has denied intent to kill.

Several defendants have been sentenced to death in South Korea in recent years, but none has been executed since 1997.

“Lee supplied the cause of the sinking of the Sewol … he has the heaviest responsibility for the accident,” the lead prosecutor in the case, Park Jae-eok, told the court in the south of the country.

“We ask that the court sentence him to death.”

The prosecutors sought life sentences for the other three charged with homicide and prison terms varying from 15 to 30 years for the rest.

The Sewol capsized and sank on a routine voyage on April 16, triggering an outpouring of nationwide grief and sharp criticism of the government of President Park Geun-hye for its handling of the rescue operation.

The crew members on trial have said they thought it was the coastguard’s job to evacuate passengers. Video footage of their escape triggered outrage, especially after survivors testified they repeatedly told passengers to stay put.

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