By JEFF AMY
ATLANTA (AP) — A seventh person has been arrested on murder charges in the death of a South Korean woman whose body was found decaying in a car trunk in suburban Atlanta.
Police arrested Mihee Lee, 54, on Wednesday. She’s the mother of three others already accused of murder in the death of 33-year-old Sehee Cho, Gwinnett County police said.
Investigators believe Cho traveled to the United States from South Korea in July to join a religious organization, known as Soldiers of Christ. The suspects referred to themselves as members of the group, investigators said.
Cho’s body was found Sept. 12, wrapped in a blanket in a car parked in Duluth.
A lawyer for another suspect, Eric Hyun, said he was actually a victim of the same kind of torture that Cho was subjected to. A judge released Hyun on $100,000 bail Wednesday.
Investigators said they believe Cho was held against her will for weeks in the basement of the Lee family’s Lawrenceville home, where Cho was beaten and denied food until her death. Mihee Lee limited the victim’s water intake and prevented her from leaving or seeking medical care while she underwent “religious training,” according to an arrest warrant.
Mihee Lee is charged with felony murder, false imprisonment, tampering with evidence, concealing the death of another and false statements or writings to the government.
Facing charges of felony murder, false imprisonment, tampering with evidence and concealing the death of another are Hyun, 26, of Suwanee; Gawon Lee, 26; Joonho Lee, 26; Joonhyun Lee, 22; Hyunji Lee, 25, and a 15-year-old, all from Lawrenceville.
Those six also face gang-related charges. Georgia’s gang law allows any group of three or more people who engage jointly in criminal activity to be charged as gang members.
Mihee Lee is the mother of Joonhyun Lee, Joonho Lee and and the 15-year-old, police said Wednesday.
No lawyer is listed for Mihee Lee or Gawon Lee in court records. Lawyers for Joonhyun Lee and Hyunji Lee didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment Wednesday.
At a bond hearing for Joonho Lee on Wednesday morning, WAGA-TV reports that Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Han Chung told a judge that Cho was dead for nearly a month before her body was discovered. She weighed around 70 pounds (32 kilograms) at her death.
Chung said Joonho Lee told investigators that Cho was voluntarily undergoing an admission process to join the group. The 15-year-old juvenile defendant told police Cho wanted to leave but “there was no quitting the program.”
Joonho Lee has no criminal record and is a student at Emory University. His lawyer, Scott Drake, said by email that he believed Lee met requirements for bail. Drake said he didn’t yet have enough information about the case to say whether Lee deserved charges including murder.
But Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Tamela Adkins denied bail to Joonho Lee.
“You are a threat to commit additional felonies and a risk to intimidate witnesses in this case,” Adkins said, according to a report by WSB-TV.
Police say Hyun parked the car that contained Cho’s body. A lawyer for Hyun, David Boyle, said in a Wednesday statement that the Lees tortured Hyun in the same basement at the same time they were abusing Cho, including sanding skin off his chest to “indoctrinate him into their religious extremism.”
Police say they recovered video of Joonho Lee beating Hyun.
“He was beaten with a belt in his genitals and face until he was knocked unconscious,” Boyle wrote. “He was stripped naked and shot with an airsoft gun all over his body, causing over a hundred wounds.”
The lawyer said Hyun escaped with Cho’s body after he was coerced into wiring tens of thousands of dollars to South Korea and borrowing money to buy a house in Suwanee, another Gwinnett County suburb, intended as a church for the group. Boyle says the Lees also used Hyun’s credit cards to pay for clothes and restaurant meals.
Police said Hyun called a relative after parking the car to take him to a hospital. When he asked the relative to return and retrieve a personal item, he discovered the woman’s body in the trunk and called 911, police said.
Hyun wasn’t taken to the Gwinnett County jail until Sept. 24, officials said. Boyle said he was hospitalized until then and later held in the jail’s medical wing.
“If Eric had not escaped from the Lees’ house, he would have also died,” Boyle said. “Eric Hyun is innocent of these charges and I am confident that he will be cleared of these charges once that investigation is complete.”