Sordid case haunts Gilroy

Kyung Kim, acquitted on murder charges, says city owes her
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – A woman acquitted last summer of hiring someone to kill her husband filed a claim against the city for damages she allegedly suffered after her arrest, which led to a three-year incarceration.

Kyung Kim, 48, cited losses of at least $780,000, plus unknown damages from her time in jail, in the claim filed with the city last month – the first step toward filing a lawsuit. The City Council denied Kim’s claim during its meeting Tuesday night, a routine procedure.

Kim, who was acquitted in June of paying a hit man to kill her husband of 24 years, cited the Gilroy Police Department as causing the damages when she was “arrested without probable cause” in June 2001.

The damages detailed in the claim include “loss of time, mental and emotional distress, loss of freedom of movement, loss of pecuniary benefits including loss of profit from business, forced sale of business and residential house, incurring attorney’s fees, etc.”

She says she lost $510,000 in property – having sold her home and business – $150,000 in earning, and about $120,000 in attorney and broker fees.

With the city’s dismissal of Kim’s claim, she now has six months to file a lawsuit, if she chooses.

“Those are all pretty perfunctory,” City Administrator Jay Baksa said, referring to claim denials. “Any claims that come into the city are denied just to start the process.”

The city’s Human Resources Director LeeAnn McPhillips said she could not comment further, but said claimants may provide the city with more information regarding their case after a claim is denied.

Kim’s attorney, Wonchol Jeon, declined to comment Tuesday on the claim or the possibility of a lawsuit.

Cpl. Jim Callahan arrested Kim in July 2001, following a three-year investigation by the department into her husband Young Kim’s disappearance.

For an officer to arrest someone on suspicion of committing a felony, he or she must have a reasonable belief that that person committed the crime. This means that, given the same information, a reasonable or prudent person would draw the same conclusion, said Gilroy police Sgt. Kurt Svardal. He did not know whether Kim was arrested on a warrant – which would mean the District Attorney’s office and a magistrate had approved it.

After an arrest is made, there are opportunities before charges are filed and before a case goes to trial, for the case to be dropped or the arrestee released from jail, Svardal said.

Kim’s husband, Young Kim, was last seen in November 1998. Following an investigation, police concluded that Young Kim was dead, the victim of a murder conspiracy by his wife and three members of the Covian family of Hollister: Gustavo, the alleged triggerman; his then-wife Maria Zapian, who allegedly passed messages from Kyung Kim to Gustavo; and Gustavo’s younger brother Ignacio, who police say helped carry out the killing. Ignacio Covian, 32, and Zapian, 29, accepted plea bargains this spring. Both are serving prison sentences for voluntary manslaughter. Although Young Kim’s body was never found, a jury found Gustavo Covian guilty in February 2003. He is now serving a life sentence without parole in Soledad.

Kyung Kim was acquitted of first-degree murder on June 21, 2004, having spent three years in county jail. She had been accused of hiring Gustavo Covian to kill her husband. Although she admitted during the trial that she paid the man at least $46,000 after her husband disappeared, she said it was because he made threats against herself and her children.

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