World Bulletin / News Desk
An engineer who escaped a ferry disaster off South Korea's coast in April has become the first of 14 crew accused of abandoning the sinking vessel and violating a ship's safety act to accept the charges.
Three others who attended Tuesday's packed hearing at a district court in the southern city of Gwangju have followed the lead set by the Sewol captain and 10 other crew at last week's hearing. All charges related to fleeing the ship while hundreds of passengers were left on board having been initially told not to evacuate.
The engineer's lawyer requested leniency due to his client's poor health, pointing to his attempted suicide following the disaster.
He told the court that his client - Sohn - "will not make an excuse by saying that he could not rescue passengers as the ship sharply tilted to one side quickly."
Those pleading not guilty pointed to the panic of the situation in their defense. All are being defended by state-appointed lawyers after their own representatives resigned.
Sohn's state-appointed lawyer remains.
More than 300 people died or are still missing following the sinking on April 16 - most of them teenage students and their teachers on a school trip.
The defendants were among the first to be rescued by the Coast Guard, which President Park Geun-hye has since vowed to disband as part of sweeping safety reforms.
69-year-old Captain Lee Joon-seok and three senior crew face the death penalty as a maximum punishment after being charged with "homicide through willful negligence."
Two of the eight denied charges of corruption, which may have compromised the vessel's safety.
Three judges are presiding over the trial - rather than one as would normally be the case at a district court in South Korea, reflecting the case's gravity of this case. Just as last week, family members of the victims arrived by the busload to witness Tuesday's hearing at Gwangju District Court.
Search operations continued Tuesday at the site of the submerged ferry off South Korea’s southwestern coast, with divers still trying to find the bodies of the remaining 12 unaccounted for passengers.
The official Sewol death toll stands at 292.Last Mod: 17 Haziran 2014, 12:55