Mentally ill Army retiree may face life sentence in slaying of family

July 19, 2011

Last year, retired Army Lt. Col. Kenston K. Yi strangled his adopted teenage daughter with a three-pound dumbbell before fatally beating his wife in their Fairfax County condominium, a prosecutor and Yi’s attorney agree.

It will be up to a Fairfax County jury to decide whether he is guilty of two counts of first-degree murder or should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

In the opening day of Yi’s trial Tuesday, a Fairfax prosecutor told jurors that despite Yi’s mental illness, his actions were deliberate and methodical and that he intended to kill the pair.

But Yi’s attorney presented a picture of a mentally ill man who was suicidal. Yi suffered from a delusion that his mental illnesses would cause him to be fired at work and bring shame upon his family, the lawyer said.

“He believed, genuinely, that the only way for his wife, his daughter and himself to avoid an unending and unsolvable pain and suffering was to kill them and then to kill himself,” the lawyer, Andrew Elders, told the jury.


Kenston Yi may face life in prison in the slaying of his wife and daughter in their Lorton home. (Courtesy of Fairfax County Police Dept. /COURTESY OF FAIRFAX COUNTY POLICE DEPT.)

Yi’s wife, Hyon, and adopted daughter, Joy, were slain in their apartment June 13, 2010.

To both sides, the key evidence in the case is an audio recording of Yi’s interview with Fairfax County police. According to Assistant Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory Holt, Yi told a detective that he knew what he was doing and deserved to be punished.

But Elders told jurors that Yi rambled and was sometimes incoherent. At one point, Yi said that “the devil was whispering into his eyes,” according to Elders.

A little more than a year ago, Yi found his daughter on the first floor of their condominium and asked her to lie down on the floor, Holt said. He said Yi told her that he would give her a massage, took a three-pound dumbbell and proceeded to strangle her with it.

“Daddy’s sorry,” Yi said, according to Elders. “I’m sending you to Jesus.”

After his daughter was dead, Yi went upstairs to find his wife in their bed, Holt said. Yi then took a 15-pound dumbbell and struck her multiple times, the prosecutor said.

“When he put the dumbbell on his daughter’s throat he knew what he was doing,” Holt told jurors. “When he struck his wife with the 15-pound dumbbell he knew what he was doing.”

After the killings, Yi grabbed rope and his dog, Happy, got into his car and drove for hours in Fairfax, trying to find a place to hang himself, Elders said. He soon returned home to get sleeping pills and the dumbbells. Then, Elders said, Yi tossed the dumbbells by the Occoquan Bridge in Woodbridge and headed to a high school, where he took a dozen pills as a suicide attempt.

Yi later made his way to the Fort Belvoir Army post, where he told an emergency room doctor that he wanted to hurt himself and told a minister that he had strangled his wife and child, authorities said.

Yi’s suicidal tendencies continued after he was arrested, Elders told the jury. In an attempt to kill himself, Yi ran into the metal door jambs of his jail cell and broke his neck in two places.

“He loved his family. . . . He was a hero of the Korean community,” the lawyer said before the trial. “Because of his sickness, he fell really, really far. It’s really a sad thing, and I think it’s worth people understanding, you know, what mental illness is going to do to somebody.”

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