The Sewol ferry captain was found guilty of homicide and sentenced to life in prison for killing 304 passengers in the tragic accident in South Korea last year. The court decision on Tuesday overturned the previous conviction for negligence.
Prosecutors, who have been working on the case since the beginning, appealed against the first court decision in November, taken by a lower court institution and that found the ferry captain Lee Joon-seok guilty of negligence with a sentence of 36 years in prison.
Against the severity of the first sentence, defendant's lawyers had also lodged an appeal in the court, but it was rejected by the High Court of Gwangju. The court decision upheld the prosecutors' demands and charged the harsher verdict and sentence.
The homicide conviction of the Sewol chief engineer was overturned to conviction of negligence by the Gwangju High Court and his sentence was reduced from 30 to 10 years in jail. A video released, showing the crew abandoning the ferry after instructing the passengers to stay on board, caused outrage and demands for harsh punishment.
On the Sewol ferry there were 476 passengers in total, 250 of them high-school students. Only 172 passengers and crew members were rescued, the rest 304 were confirmed dead or still presumed missing.
In the court during the trial, the ferry captain Lee apologized to the families of all victims and said he did not have the intention to kill anyone. On the other side, the prosecutors had disagreed, they stated the failing to exercise his duties of managing the vessel and evacuating the passengers was akin to homicide.
All crew members, who were convicted with sentences from 5 to 36 years in prison, had pleaded in Gwangju High court for leniency. According to the crew, they had never received appropriate training on passenger evacuation in case of emergencies.
The appeals court took decision for another 14 crew members, the prison terms to be reduced starting from 18 months to 12 years.
On April 16, 2014 the overloaded ferry capsized while sailing en route from Incheon to Jejuen. Later it was found that the vessel had structural defects.
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