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October 6th, 2010 JAMES PITKIN | News Stories
 

Pity For The Panty Thief

Two lawyers ask the Governor to free a notorious burglar.

     
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DEFENDANT: Sung Koo Kim appears in Washington County Circuit Court at a 2005 bail-reduction hearing.
IMAGE: Michael Rubenstein

Two Portland lawyers are asking Gov. Ted Kulongoski to show mercy in one of the most bizarre and high-profile criminal cases in recent Oregon history.

Their client is Sung Koo Kim, a 30-year-old Washington State University grad when police arrested him in 2004 in his parents’ home in Tigard. Cops found a disturbing collection of hardcore porn and thousands of pairs of women’s underwear stolen from local colleges.

A week after Kim’s release on $500,000 bail, 19-year-old Brooke Wilberger was abducted near Oregon State University. Within days, cops had linked Kim to the case and arrested him again. Vilified by prosecutors and the press, Kim was sentenced to 11 years and one month in prison for his panty thefts in four counties.

But the case against Kim in the Wilberger abduction collapsed (see “The Panty Thief,” WW, Feb. 9, 2005). Investigators had no body, and Kim had an alibi—records showed he’d performed a stock transaction at his computer when the girl was abducted.

Last year, convicted rapist Joel Courtney pleaded guilty to Wilberger’s murder and was sentenced to life without parole after leading police to Wilberger’s body in a Coast Range forest west of Benton County.

Now lawyers Jeanice Chieng and Connie Kong want Kulongoski to free Kim two years before the likely conclusion of his sentence in December 2012. Kim, now 36, has already served more than six years.

In their Sept. 24 clemency application, Chieng and Kong argue Kim is serving a longer sentence than some murderers. And with Kim’s mother now dying of cancer, they say it’s time for him to return home and receive the mental-health treatment he can’t get behind bars.

“There is no logical reason for Sung’s long prison sentence,” Chieng and Kong wrote Kulongoski. “It is an injustice, one that began with the mistaken belief that he was guilty of the Wilberger abduction and murder.”

Included in their clemency application is a 2004 email from Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry to Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk.

“Kim may never be fully tied to the Willberger [sic] abduction, and all of those involved agree that we need to do all we can to get as many burglaries on him as possible to get him off of the streets,” Berry wrote.

The fact that both lawyers are women may come as a surprise given the specifics of Kim’s crimes.

Cops found more than 3,000 pairs of women’s underwear in Kim’s room stolen from laundry rooms at Lewis & Clark College, the University of Portland, Oregon State and elsewhere. Some were labeled with names and dates.

Police also found nearly 40,000 porn images on Kim’s computer. More than 100 depicted women being tortured or raped. His gun collection, all legal, included six rifles and two handguns.

In his own letter to Kulongoski, Kim describes growing up a first-generation Korean immigrant and a Jehovah’s Witness. The resulting isolation, he says, led to profound social anxiety and fear of women. Six psychiatrists have since diagnosed Kim with severe depression and a personality disorder.

“I was in my own hell,” wrote Kim. “Taking the undergarments was exciting and gave me an adrenaline and endorphin rush. It was such a different state from what I was normally in, depressed and numb. I know now that it was a poor substitute for a total lack of girlfriends and intimacy.”

Kim says after he’s released, he wants to use his bachelor’s degree in genetics and cellular biology to research aging and cancer. He also wants to volunteer, helping others with mental illness.

“I hope to someday form intimate relationships, go on dates and be socially competent,” Kim wrote. “I want to break down all the walls that surround me and all the chains around my heart.”

Kulongoski, whose own term ends in January, does not comment on pending clemency cases, says spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor.


FACT: The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, the Korean Society of Oregon and the South Korean consul general in Seattle wrote letters in support of freeing Sung Koo Kim.
 
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