Fairfax man found guilty of killing wife, daughter

July 27, 2011

A Fairfax County man was found guilty Wednesday of strangling his teenage daughter with a three-pound dumbbell and then fatally beating his wife in their Lorton condominium last year.

Kenston K. Yi, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army, was convicted by a Fairfax jury of two counts of first-degree murder. Jurors rejected his defense that he was legally insane at the time of the killings but recommended the minimum sentence under law: 20 years on each count.

Yi, 50, bowed his head as the court read the verdict, his body shaking with silent sobs.

“No matter what the jury’s verdict had been, today would have been a sad day,” his attorney, Andrew Elders, said in a statement after the trial.

Throughout the trial, which started July 19, Elders painted a picture of a mentally ill man who was suicidal.

Yi turned to violence because he believed that his mental illness would cause him to lose his job and bring shame upon his family, Elders said during the trial.

Prosecutors argued that despite Yi’s mental illness, his actions were deliberate and methodical and that he intended to kill his wife, Hyon, and their daughter, Joy. They were slain June 13, 2010.

That day, prosecutors said, Yi asked his daughter to lie down on the floor of their condominium and told her that he would give her a massage.

Instead, he took a three-pound dumbbell and strangled her with it.

Yi then went upstairs, grabbed a 15-pound dumbbell and hit his wife multiple times with it on their bed, prosecutors said.

After the killings, Yi grabbed a rope and his dog, Happy, and drove for hours in Fairfax, trying to find a place to hang himself, Elders said during the trial.

He later tossed the dumbbells by the Occoquan Bridge in Woodbridge and headed to a high school, where he took a dozen sleeping pills in an attempt to kill himself.

Before the jurors deliberated on a sentence, Elders urged them to consider Yi’s past as well as his mental issues.

His brother and sister-in-law testified that in the Korean community, Yi was a role model as a devoted son and loving father and husband.

“Suffice it to say that Kenston Yi was a good man who lived a good life,” Elders told the jury. “The nature of the offense does not suggest cruelty or evil design. He thought he had to do it, and he did it in what he thought was the fastest way possible.”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory Holt did not ask jurors to recommend a specific sentence.

“I’m not going to ask for a jail sentence. I just want you to think about what Yi took from his daughter, who will never be a high school graduate or even a mother someday, and what Hyon will never be again,” he told the jury.

The eldest of three siblings, Yi graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1986 and retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel after 30 years of active duty.

The killings shocked Army colleagues and Fairfax residents, especially among the Korean community.

Mark Coats, Yi’s roommate at West Point, waited outside the courtroom Wednesday afternoon in support of his friend during jury deliberations.

Yi seemed out of character when he visited Coats at his home in Colorado in April, Coats testified on Monday.

“He was definitely not the Ken I had known for 30 years,” Coats said. “He was very sullen, very sad, under a lot of stress.”

Yi is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 4.

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