An 18-year-old Silver Spring college student, facing six months in prison for refusing to testify against her father at his murder trial, remains in jeopardy of serving that sentence despite her father's acquittal in Montgomery County Circuit Court, her attorney said yesterday.
Lawyer Paul F. Kemp said the not guilty verdict returned Thursday in the case of Tae-Sun Choi, who had been charged with killing his wife, has no bearing on the case of Choi's daughter, Nancy, who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify about the Jan. 4 killing.
The jury in her father's case deliberated for 4 1/2 hours Thursday before finding him not guilty. Tae-Sun Choi had contended that he shot his wife twice in self-defense at their Silver Spring home as she attacked him with a kitchen knife.
Judge Richard B. Latham, who presided at the murder trial, ruled against Nancy Choi's Fifth Amendment claim on Monday and imposed the prison sentence for contempt. He then released her pending an appeal.
Had she testified, Kemp said, she would have been forced to incriminate herself by contradicting a witness statement she gave to police the night her mother was shot to death.
Although Tae-Sun Choi's trial has ended, Kemp said, "the contempt issue is on an independent track. It's a whole different matter and it has to be decided within its own confines."
Assistant State's Attorney Barry A. Hamilton had sought to prove that the victim, Sook-Yuen Choi, was already lying on the floor wounded by her husband's first shot, and was therefore not a threat to him when he fired a second shot.
Hamilton declined to comment yesterday on whether Nancy Choi's testimony about the sequence of events that night might have helped the prosecution's case.
"People may make the claim that the outcome would have been different," Kemp said. "But it doesn't matter. The constitutional issue has nothing to do with the litigation involving Mr. Choi."
Nancy Choi, a Georgetown University student, told police she was upstairs with her brother when they heard a shot. She said in her statement to police that they rushed downstairs and found their mother bleeding on the kitchen floor.
She said she believed she heard her mother tell them to leave the house. As she and her brother rushed from the kitchen, she said, their father closed the kitchen door behind them.
Seconds later, on her way out of the house, Choi had told police, she heard the second shot.
Kemp said some aspect of her statement was not true. Had she testified truthfully at the trial, he said, it would have been tantamount to admitting she gave a false statement to police, a misdemeanor.
In initial questioning at the trial, Hamilton asked her how long a cousin had been living with the family. She replied: "Since the accident."
When asked about the killing, she invoked the Fifth Amendment. But Judge Latham ruled that she had already begun testifying about her perception of the shooting by characterizing it as an "accident." He said her testimony constituted a waiver of her Fifth Amendment privilege.
Kemp said he will appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.