Lorton man found guilty of killing wife, daughter

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Date: 2011-07-29

Yi faces 20 years in prison on each count of first-degree murder

Gregg MacDonald, Staff Writer

A Fairfax County jury of eight women and four men convicted a Lorton man Wednesday of killing his wife and 15-year-old adopted daughter.

Kenston Yi, 50, of the 9200 block of Cardinal Forest Lane in Lorton was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David S. Schell instructed the jury that it could come back with a finding of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or not guilty by reason of insanity.

Yi’s defense attorney Andrew Elders painted a vivid picture of Yi, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, as a man tormented by severe mental illness, who heard “the devil whispering in his ear” telling him to kill his family.

“This was a horrible, terrifying act,” Elders told the jury in his closing argument. “These two individuals are dead at the hands of my client, Mr Yi. There is no argument about that ... but just because he killed someone doesn’t mean he is a murderer.”

According to prosecutor Gregory Holt, on June 13, 2010, Yi approached his daughter, Joy, who was chatting on her computer. He instructed her to lie down facing up on the floor so he could give her a massage.

“He then covered her arms with a blanket, immobilizing her arms. He then grabbed a 3-pound dumbbell and pressed it on her neck, apologizing and telling her he was sending her to Jesus … for 15 to 30 seconds, before she passed out, 15-year-old Joy Li stared at her father as he was killing her.”

According to Holt — who held up both dumbbells for the jury to see — Yi, after making sure his daughter was dead, dropped the 3-pound dumbbell, picked up a larger 15-pound dumbbell, and went upstairs to kill his wife, Hyon Yi, 47, hitting her repeatedly in the head with the heavier weight.

“There were eight blunt-force trauma impacts with the 15-pound weight,” Holt told the Jury. “He made sure she was dead.”

According to testimony, Yi then drove from the Lorton home to Occoquan, where he dumped both weights into the river. Police later retrieved them after Yi confessed his crimes to a chaplain at Fort Belvoir Hospital. Yi had entered the hospital after ingesting 15 Ambien sleeping pills in an unsuccessful attempt to take his own life.

Three days later, while incarcerated in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, Yi again attempted to take his life by ramming his head hard against a thick metal door four times and fracturing two vertebrae in his neck, according to Psychiatrist Thomas Wise.

According to Wise, Yi was hearing “command hallucinations” described by Yi as “the devil whispering in his ear” telling him to kill himself.

Yi, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, served in the Army from April 1979 to August 2009, according to Army spokesman George Wright.

Yi graduated from West Point in 1986 and then received master's degrees from Central Michigan University in 1996 and the National Defense University in 2006.

Mark Coates, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was a roommate of Yi’s at West Point.

Coates testified Yi had come to visit him two months before the killings and that he did not seem himself.

“I could sense there was a lot on his mind,” Coates testified. “He had been passed over for a promotion and was unhappy, complaining about his boss, which was unusual for him. He said he also felt burdened by his aging parents and by his daughter, Joy, who was getting into trouble at school.”

At the time of her death, Joy Yi was a freshman at South County Secondary School.

Forensic psychologist Anita Boss, who interviewed Yi after the killings, testified Yi and his daughter had a history of confrontation.

“Three or four years ago, the daughter complained about being spanked and social services was contacted,” she said. “He had an internal conflict with disciplining Joy, but there was no indication of child abuse.”

According to Boss’ testimony, Yi had been diagnosed with “adjustment disorder” in 2008 after sending an email to Army colleagues about blowing himself up. Boss told the jury that in her professional opinion Yi was suicidal and “he felt his suicide would bring shame on his family and they could not survive without him, so they too had to die.”

Elders repeatedly made this point to the jury, telling them no rational person would rationalize their family’s death this way.

“The path that led him to these killings is clear,” he said. “He was mentally ill. There was no other reason for Kenston Yi to do this.”

Elders said Yi had an appointment with a psychiatrist scheduled for two days after the killings.

But in the end, the jury rejected the proposition that Yi was insane and could not tell right from wrong at the time of the killings. They found him guilty of first-degree murder in both killings, but recommended the minimum allowable punishment, 20 years imprisonment, for each count.

Yi is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 4.


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