10-Year Sentence Follows Life of Lies

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

May was supposed to be a time for the family and friends of Chong Koh to celebrate his hard work and good fortune.

Koh's family was flying from Los Angeles, planning to watch him graduate from Georgetown Law School. Koh told them he had accepted a job at a prestigious New York law firm. He and his girlfriend, Sung "Susie" Lee, a New York-based graphic arts student, were making wedding plans.

But Koh's carefully constructed life was built on a series of lies that "graduation day" was about to expose. He had never attended a day of college, much less law school. No fabulous job awaited him.

The morning of May 20, Lee awoke to find Koh sitting on top of her, punching her in the face, striking her with a wok and slashing her neck, throat and wrists with a razor blade. She survived. Koh tried to kill himself by drinking STP gas treatment.

Yesterday, Koh, 26, was sentenced in D.C. Superior Court to a maximum 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated assault while armed.

He apologized for attacking Lee and for the years spent deceiving his friends and family about his academic and professional career.

"I feel that words are not enough," Koh said, reading from a prepared statement and sobbing. "It's hard to own up to my misdeeds. I am sorry for the lies, deceit and betrayal of the trust that came about, and most of all for hurting Susie."

Prosecutors said Koh had concocted a murder-suicide plot that he hoped would leave friends and family members too distraught to discover he had never done undergraduate studies at Columbia University or attended a single class at Georgetown.

For five years, Koh's relatives had sent him what they thought was tuition money, which Koh used for rent, expenses and luxuries.

Danny C. Onorato, Koh's attorney, described the attack on Lee as the culmination of years of deception brought about by emotional stress and depression, partly due to family stress within his culture. Koh, a Korean American, was the oldest son and faced "a great deal of pressure" to make his family proud, Onorato said.

Koh and Lee had been carrying on a long-distance relationship for a year and a half, and he often traveled to New York to spend weekends with her. He told her he was busy with law classes during the week.

The night before Koh's purported graduation, they went shopping at Pentagon City, then returned to his studio apartment in the Massachusetts House, a luxury high-rise apartment in Northwest. They had dinner and watched a movie.

Lee later told prosecutors about waking up the following morning and seeing the man she planned to marry atop her. She said that as she struggled, he bound her wrists with duct tape. "I thought you loved me," she recalled crying before blacking out.

Lee succeeded in grabbing Koh's cellphone to call police. She appeared yesterday at Koh's sentencing and sat in the courtroom about 15 feet from Koh, who was shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit.

Koh's father, sister and brother also were in the courtroom. They broke into tears as Koh asked for forgiveness. Koh tried to face Lee, but D.C. Superior Court Judge Herbert B. Dixon ordered him to face forward.

"I have been so scared to see you," he said, addressing Lee. "I just don't want to hurt you or anybody else. I don't have to be afraid anymore of the lies."

In August, Koh pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault while armed. In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to seek indictment on any other charges in the case.

Dixon granted Lee's request to maintain a letter-writing relationship with her former boyfriend while he is in prison. She said it was an effort to better understand why the man she loved and trusted lied about who he is and brutally attacked her.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company