LOS ANGELES, Calif. (KTLA) — A man accused of burning his two children alive by setting his SUV on fire pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of first-degree murder.
Dae Kwon Yun, 61, also admitted the special circumstances of arson murder and multiple murders.
In exchange for Yun’s guilty plea, prosecutors said Tuesday that they would no longer seek the death penalty.
He was immediately sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.
“It’s beyond my imagination how someone can blow up their children,” Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus said. “From my vantage point there is no justification.”
A few weeks before the April 2006 crime, Yun had shut down his T-shirt manufacturing business and his wife of 13 years filed for divorce.
Yun picked up his children for a day-long outing on April 2. After going to lunch and a movie, Yun drove his SUV to an industrial area in the L.A. Garment District.
He put rags soaked in gasoline around the Toyota Sequoia. His 10-year-old son Alexander and his 11-year-old daughter Ashley were inside.
Shortly before the blaze, witnesses saw Yun shouting at his daughter before shoving her into the back seat of his car.
After the vehicle went up in flames with all three inside, Yun rolled out of the SUV onto the ground with his legs aflame, a witness recalled at a preliminary hearing.
Yun yelled for help, but never once gestured toward his children inside the burning vehicle, the witness said.
A probation officer who evaluated the case wrote that for Yun, capital punishment would have been a reprieve.
“It is the belief of this officer that the death penalty would allow the defendant to avoid the punishment which is appropriate for his crimes,” the officer wrote in a 2008 report made public Tuesday.
“It is therefore believed the best interest of the community will be served by a sentence to state prison for as long a period of time as his natural life provides.”
According to the probation report, Yun told detectives that he had contemplated killing himself and his children for months because he was angry with his wife.
His wife and the children’s mother, Sun Ok Ma, testified that he had repeatedly beaten her and threatened to kill her and burn down their home, leading to their separation and divorce.
He pleaded guilty in 2004 to beating Ma, and was sentenced to two years’ probation.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace, another prosecutor on the case, said Tuesday that the attack was “definitely premeditated.”
He noted that Yun purchased the gasoline, picked an isolated location and parked the car up against a loading dock, making it difficult for the doors to open.
Prosecutors told the judge that Ma had been informed of the plea and sentencing, but said she did not want to make a statement.
Yun’s attorneys asked that their client receive mental health treatment in prison and be kept in protective custody, saying he was suicidal and would be a target for violence from other inmates.
The man has shown “tremendous remorse” for his crime, attorney Christopher Apostal said.
Yun has attempted suicide at least three times since his arrest, his attorneys said, and has been placed on the highest level of suicide watch with around-the-clock monitoring.
The judge said he would make the recommendations but declined the attorneys’ request that Yun be housed in Southern California to accommodate visits from his family.
He said the decision was up to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and that the man should not receive “special treatment.”