SEOUL: A South Korean court sentenced a man to 40 years in prison on Tuesday (Feb 7) for murdering a woman he had stalked for years, in a high-profile case that prompted calls for legal reform.

Seoul’s Central District Court found 31-year-old Jeon Joo-hwan guilty of killing a former colleague in revenge after the victim reported him to the police for stalking.

Over almost two years, Jeon followed and threatened the woman on more than 300 separate occasions but he was never detained despite her filing repeated complaints, as police deemed him “low risk”.

On Sep 14 last year, a day before Jeon was due to be sentenced for stalking the woman, he stabbed her to death in a public restroom at a subway station in central Seoul, the court found.

“From the defendant’s testimony it appeared he was determined to murder the victim unless she agreed to settle” the stalking charge, the court said in its verdict, according to Yonhap News Agency.

“Despite the victim’s wish to cut ties, the defendant forced her to suffer stalking and committed a revenge crime … instead of reflecting on his misdeeds.”

The killing prompted South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol, the country’s former top prosecutor, to call on the justice ministry to improve laws on stalking to “better protect the victims and ensure such crimes won’t happen again”.

Prosecutors in the case had called for the death penalty, arguing that Jeon could “likely commit extreme crimes like murder in the future due to his egocentrism when he feels anger against others”, the JoongAng Daily newspaper reported.

But the court ruled the defendant’s young age meant he could still reflect and atone for his crimes.

In his final court testimony, Jeon apologised to the victim’s family “for causing them so much pain”.

The failure to take Jeon into custody after the victim’s repeated complaints sparked widespread shock and alarm in South Korea and prompted enraged demands for officials to deal with such cases more strictly.

Jeon reportedly told investigators he had been angered by the legal problems his victim had caused him. He had been fired from his job at the Seoul Metro – where the woman also worked – after she first reported him for stalking.

Jeon was already in jail before being handed his murder sentence on Tuesday, having earlier been handed nine years for the stalking. The sentences will be served consecutively.

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