In a story perhaps more suited for a movie screen, a California man received a life sentence after a mandatory DNA sample from a 2008 Ponzi scheme conviction tied him to a previously-unsolved triple homicide. Robin Kyo Cho, 55, received the sentence this week for the 2003 killings of a Korean woman, her 2-year old son, and a live-in nanny. Cho, who had maintained his innocence, previously lived in the same apartment building as the deceased victims and was interviewed by police at the time of the killings without any follow-up. Including sentencing enhancements, Cho was ordered to serve 105 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
After the discovery of the three victims, authorities initially focused on the widowed husband but were unable to nail down a motive. The case took on international significance, even making the Korea Times' top 10 list of news items of 2003. However, the case remained unsolved for several years until late 2008, when a DNA sample collected by authorities through a mandatory program for convicted felons matched a piece of evidence discovered at the scene and widely thought to be linked to the killer. That DNA sample belonged to Cho, who had just pleaded guilty to a $2 million Ponzi scheme and was required to submit a DNA sample as part of his sentence.
Beginning in 1998, Cho admitted to soliciting funds from at least 11 investors under the guise that investors would receive an annual return ranging from 4% - 6% as well as the guaranteed return of their principal investment at the end of the investment period. While Cho promised that his investments were low-risk, they were instead high-risk and resulted in the near-total loss of all investor funds. Cho was arrested in June 2006 and charged with 52 counts of violating the California Corporations Code by selling unqualified securities, 52 counts of selling securities by misrepresentations, 12 counts of grand theft, one count of selling securities with intent to defraud and one count of forgery.
While Cho faced over 60 years in prison under the charges, he was able to secure an arrangement with prosecutors whereby he would plead guilty and receive a sentence of five years of probation. However, as a condition of his sentence, Cho was required to submit a DNA sample that would be stored in a statewide database. When Cho's sample turned up a match to the unsolved murders, he was initially brought in for questioning by authorities and subsequently the subject of surveillance. After authorities discovered unused .38 caliber bullets in a crumpled newspaper Cho had thrown away - the same caliber of bullets used in the murders - Cho was arrested.
Despite maintaining his innocence, Cho was convicted by a jury of the murders in July 2012. Prosecutors based their case largely on the matching of DNA samples, and also speculated that a financial motive factored in due to Cho's collapsing Ponzi scheme. While prosecutors had sought the death penalty, the jury recommended that he be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.