Sometimes, as she walks the streets of Korea, Min Tae Kim’s mother glimpses someone who looks like her son and quietly starts to cry. She cries because her boy – an aspiring musician and blossoming traveller – was found naked in a shallow grave in a Brisbane backyard in December 2013.
The man who put him there, Sanghyun Hwang, on Thursday was sentenced to life imprisonment after a jury found him guilty of murdering the 28-year-old. The pair had organised online to meet to exchange Korean and Australian currency, as Mr Kim had recently sold his car and was planning his return home.
Instead, the Brisbane Supreme Court heard he was strangled, stripped naked and buried by Hwang after being lured to an empty rental property in suburban Algester.
“It is said in some places Mr Hwang that life is cheap,” Justice Martin Daubney told the convicted killer in sentencing.
“In this case, we know what Mr Kim’s life was worth to you. It was worth about $10,000.”
This came after Hwang wept as Mr Kim’s brother, Min Seok Kim, read an emotional statement to the court after the jury’s verdict.
Sobbing, he said his beloved sibling had been killed for “selfish and despicable greed”, leaving his family beset by sorrow and pain.
He said the young man had left home for a two-year working holiday in Australia and wanted to eventually study music in the UK.
But instead of continuing to work towards his dreams, he said his brother returned “as a cold body”, leaving their mother distraught and socially reclusive.
“Whenever she came across a young man with a similar look to Min Tae in the street, she sheds tears quietly,” Crown Prosecutor Todd Fuller said, reading the statement in English to the court.
“She’s become so weak mentally and physically that she is only able to maintain her routine for life necessities.”
During the trial Hwang claimed he’d attacked Mr Kim from behind after the man realised he was “playing him” and became angry.
He insisted he never meant to kill him, however, and didn’t realise how hard he was choking his victim.
But the jury ultimately rejected his version of events, returning at about 3pm on Thursday to find him guilty after retiring shortly after 11am.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 18 months for a count of interference with a corpse.
Hwang had pleaded guilty to the latter offence.
He will spend at least the next 20 years behind bars.