- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2000

The father of a Korean girl killed by a hit-and-run driver in March said yesterday Fairfax, Va., prosecutors should pursue more serious charges against the suspect and not agree to a plea deal that carries no prison time.

Jane L. Wagner, a lawyer from Sterling, Va., is scheduled to go on trial Tuesday on a charge of felony hit-and-run in the March 9 death of Naeun Yoon, who was 15.

The charges carry a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $2,500.

Naeun's father, Young-ki Yoon, has been frustrated with what he says is a lack of information and cooperation from Fairfax Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, the prosecutor on the case.

"We believe that a negligent murder, involuntary-manslaughter charge or even a second-degree murder charge based on depraved indifference could have been possible even if to force a plea bargain," Mr. Yoon said in a statement yesterday.

Mr. Yoon pleaded for any witnesses in the case to come forward, and doubled a reward to $10,000 should more serious charges be brought.

Mr. Yoon, his attorney and a private investigator laid out a series of complaints and criticisms about the case and the Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office at a news conference at the National Press Club yesterday.

Investigator Mel Berth accused Mrs. Wagner of homicide.

Citing reports from police and a medical examiner, Mr. Berth said Naeun lived for at least 45 minutes after she was struck, purportedly by Mrs. Wagner's silver Mercedes Benz sedan, which knocked Naeun 70 feet down an embankment, police said at the time.

Nauen's mother and a Fairfax County police officer found the girl about an hour later.

"Jane Wagner left Naeun Yoon to die in the ambulance 45 minutes after striking her with her automobile and fleeing the scene," Mr. Berth said.

Under questioning, Mr. Yoon's attorney did not completely agree with Mr. Berth or his client.

"In my opinion, there is plenty of evidence for [a manslaughter charge], but I can't say that because I have not seen the evidence," said Michael Choi, a Philadelphia lawyer who has litigated Japanese internment camp and Holocaust-repayment cases.

Mrs. Wagner's attorney had said in March that his client "thought she hit a deer." Virginia law does not require drivers to stop if they hit a deer. Mrs. Wagner was arrested about three days after the incident.

Defense attorney Rodney G. Leffler told The Times yesterday he could not comment on specifics of the case.

Mrs. Wagner who worked for two years as a clerk for Fairfax Circuit Court Chief Judge F. Bruce Bach is getting lenient treatment, and police have not vigorously investigated the case, Mr. Yoon and his associates argued yesterday.

The prosecutor and Mrs. Wagner's attorney are working on a plea bargain that would include no prison time, according to Mr. Berth and Mr. Choi.

But Mr. Leffler denied the accusations, saying, "There is no offer of a plea bargain from the government."

Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan was out of the office, a secretary said.

A source familiar with the case said Mrs. Wagner is likely to plead guilty to the charge on Tuesday, but without any agreement with, or sentencing suggestions from, prosecutors.

Mrs. Wagner, who was fired from her law firm this summer, is pregnant. Mr. Berth said those factors will weigh toward a light sentence in a plea agreement.

Mr. Yoon pleaded for justice to be done for his only daughter, who had moved to the United States from South Korea only two weeks before her death and was enrolled at Langley High in McLean, where school officials say she was quickly making friends.

"Am I so insignificant because I am a Korean-American and I don't know the laws of the land?" Mr. Yoon asked. "Are they so incompetent, or reluctant, to go ahead?"

Mr. Yoon said he holds no resentment against this country which he had sought to come to as a child and is thankful for the support he's received.

"I pray that on Oct. 31, the trial will be held and may God's wisdom and fairness rule in the courthouse where many secrets are buried."

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