A Northbrook man who allegedly confessed to his son’s murder sat listening intently in court Monday, as a psychiatrist told the judge that the man was “in no position” to give a voluntary statement about how his son had died.
Hyungseok Koh, 58, allegedly confessed to stabbing his then 22-year-old son Paul Koh in April 2009. Now facing murder charges in Cook County Circuit Court’s Second District, Koh has pleaded not guilty and is currently being held in Cook County Jail on $5 million bond. The alleged confession occurred while he was in police custody after Paul Koh’s death, according to court documents.
In support of as evidence, Koh’s attorneys brought psychiatrist Robert Galatzer-Levy as a witness for the defense.
Attorneys and potential witnesses in the case, including Koh’s wife, Eunsook, have declined to speak to Patch, since Judge Garritt Howard issued a gag order prohibiting them from discussing the case with the press.
Psychiatrist Diagnoses Four Conditions That Could Affect Koh’s Mental State
Galatzer-Levy is a psychatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice as well as a lecturer at the University of Chicago. He told the court that defense attorneys paid him to review medical records and to conduct two interviews with Koh and one with Koh’s daughter, Helen, in order to prepare a report on Koh’s mental state while in police custody.
Under questioning from defense attorney Daniel Fenske of Jenner & Block, Galatzer-Levy said that based on his review of medical records, he believed Koh had diabetes, an ammonia disorder, small vessel disease and was in a state of extreme stress on April 16, 2009, the date his son was found stabbed in the doorway of the Kohs’ Birch Road home.
Northbrook Police responded to the Koh residence around 3:44 a.m. that day after Hyungseok Koh called 911. When they arrived, Koh ran out of his garage door screaming, then brought officers to his front door, where his son lay dead in a pool of blood, according to court documents.
Police then took Koh and his wife to the police station, where both were interrogated. According to a court record of Koh’s initial hearing on April 17, 2009, prosecutors said Koh told police that he was angry that night because his son had stayed out past his 11 p.m. curfew. When Paul Koh came home, Koh told police that he confronted his son, according to Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Catherine Crowley. Paul Koh then pushed his father, at which point Koh told police he went to get a knife from the kitchen, she said.
“He then swung the knife at his son’s neck,” Koh told police, according to Crowley. “He further described grabbing his son from behind and cutting the child’s neck with the knife.”
Psychiatrist: “His Mental State Is … Disoriented”
But under questioning from defense attorneys, Galatzer-Levy said that Koh was “in no position to give a voluntary statement.”
Koh, whose native language is Korean, has been accompanied by a translator in court. And according to friends, he has some difficulty understanding English. During the interrogation, “it was clear at times that he didn’t understand what was being said,” Galatzer-Levy said.
Additionally, he said that Koh’s state of trauma after his son’s death, as well as his physical conditions—diabetes, ammonia disorder and small vessel disease—would have adversely affected his psychological ability to think through consequences and his ability to remember the events of the previous night.
According to Galatzer-Levy, both diabetes and ammonia disorder can produce confusion and disorientation as high blood sugar or ammonia levels reach the brain.
“Both of these disorders are generally made worse by stress,” he said—something Koh would certainly have been experiencing immediately after his son died.
“Seeing one’s son dead and bloody is about the most horrible thing I can image,” Galatzer-Levy said, adding that extreme trauma can also affect an individual’s ability to lay down organized memories.
Meanwhile, another of Koh’s conditions, small vessel disease, diminishes blood flow to small vessels in the brain and can cause a slowing of mental functioning and impairment of memories, Galatzer-Levy told defense attorneys.
After watching videotapes of the three interrogations police conducted with Koh, Galatzer-Levy said he observed signs that Koh couldn’t remember the previous night’s events. At points during the interrogation, he told police he couldn’t remember, and toward the end of one session, he struck his head as if trying to bring memories back, Galatzer-Levy said.
“I think there is ample evidence in addition to Mr. Koh’s statements that he can’t remember,” he said. “A person whose memory is impaired, whose judgment is impaired—he isn’t reliable.”
In addition to his medical conditions, Galatzer-Levy said Koh’s cultural background as a Korean immigrant might affect how he responded to police questioning.
“Mr. Koh would be more likely to be polite, more deferential, more cooperative than the average American,” he said. “This use of a more polite, more Korean manner is most likely to occur as stress increases.”
Based on his understanding of Koh’s psychiatric state when police interviewed him, Galatzer-Levy said that he did not have the mental competence at the time to withstand that level of stress.
“By the end of the interview, his mental state is, to my observation, clearly disoriented,” he said. “He’s saying that he remembers things essentially because he’s being pressured to say he remembers.”
Koh's attorneys have brought , alleging that several members of the force violated his constitutional rights during their arrest and subsequent interrogation of him.
State’s Attorney Questions Validity of Alleged Medical Conditions
Under cross-examination by Assistant State’s Attorney Michelle Gemskie, Galatzer-Levy said he believed that not taking prescriptions for diabetes or ammonia disorder could have affected Koh’s mental state while he was being interrogated. He said he believed Koh would have typically taken such drugs at about 6:30 a.m.
Asked whether missing medication would make “a big difference” just an hour later at 7:30 a.m., when police began the interrogation, Galatzer-Levy said, “It makes a difference. I wouldn’t include big.”
Galatzer-Levy also admitted to Gemskie that he conducted his interviews in English, not Korean, and said that Koh did have some trouble understanding him.
Gemskie also asked Galatzer-Levy to review records that showed Koh’s doctor ordered him to stop taking medications in March 2009, and records from Walgreens that indicate only a prescription for blood pressure medication at the time of Koh’s arrest.
At the end of the day Monday, Judge Howard cut Gemskie’s cross-examination short. She will continue asking questions of Galatzer-Levy during a hearing scheduled for July 22.
Members of Koh’s church, New Life Church in Palatine, along with other Korean-Americans, gathered outside the courtroom at the end of the day. One woman, who declined to be named, said his church was organizing the efforts to show support.
Among the crowd was Koh’s wife, Eunsook. While proceedings were going on, more than a dozen supporters from the Korean community filled the courtroom. Meanwhile, Eunsook Koh sat outside the room, a little distance away on a bench.