October 8, 2015 / 6:05 AM / 2 years ago

American charged in 1997 South Korea murder pleads not guilty

SEOUL (Reuters) - An American accused of murdering a South Korean college student in the bathroom of a Seoul Burger King 18 years ago pleaded not guilty on Thursday after his extradition from the United States last month.

The 1997 murder of Cho Joong-pil, 22, in the Itaewon nightlife district, which is popular with expatriates in the South Korean capital, fueled discontent among Koreans against U.S. military bases in the country.

Korean officials say Arthur John Patterson, whose father was a civilian contractor to the U.S. military, fled to the United States after Cho was found dead on the floor of the restaurant bathroom. Cho had multiple stab wounds to his neck and body.

Patterson's friend, Edward Lee, also a U.S. citizen, was initially sentenced to life in prison for the murder but was later acquitted on appeal due to lack of evidence.

Both men admitted to witnessing the murder but accused each other of killing Cho.

Patterson, 35, denied the accusation in a hand-written letter read by his lawyer during a pre-trial hearing, .

"I cannot admit the fact of the crime. It is Edward Lee who stabbed Mr. Cho," lawyer Oh Byoung-joo read to the judges on Patterson's behalf.

Patterson, wearing a dark green prison uniform, stood next to his lawyer as the statement was read.

Cho's parents were also in the Seoul court.

"He's not even a human being. He must be punished for his crime," Cho's mother, Lee Bok-soo, 73, said after the hearing.

"Jung-pil's deep sorrow should be resolved and so should our family's sorrow."

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tony Munroe

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