PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A jury heard opening statements today in a 33-year-old murder case.
Antonio Wabol, 53, is accused of shooting and killing a Portland State University student January 18, 1980. A grand jury indicted him in 2012 on two counts of aggravated murder with a firearm after cold case detectives with the Portland Police Bureau sent evidence to the state crime lab.
Myong Su Cho, 29, was working an overnight shift at the Plaid Pantry located at Southwest 10th Avenue and Mill Street in Portland. He was a student at PSU studying engineering, Senior Deputy District Attorney Tom Cleary said during opening statements.
"He lived a simple life that was consumed by studying, working, teaching karate and occasionally working on a 1967 Camaro automobile," Cleary said.
Cho's family abandoned him as a child in Korea, Cleary said. Detectives have never been able to find a picture of him and had a forensic sketch artist recreate an image of what Cho may have looked like the night he died.
The night of the robbery, a masked man came into the store, Cleary said. Cho chased the robber out of the store and went north, Cleary said. Neighbors first reported hearing two gunshots, prosecutors said.
The shooting happened near the Jeanne Manor apartments, where he turned and from about two-feet away, fired one shot that hit Cho in the abdomen, Cleary said. The medical examiner's office said Cho died as a result of that gunshot wound.
A day later, a man walking about a block from the scene of the killing, found a blue jacket with a hood and alerted police, Cleary said.
Eventually police found a gray stocking cap that had been turned into a robber's mask and a pair of coveralls, prosecutors said.
In 2009, a retired Portland police officer, working with the Cold Case Homicide Unit submitted to the Oregon State Crime Lab the evidence. Samples from the mask showed a mixture of at least two contributors, Cleary said. One of those samples matched Wabol's DNA profile, prosecutors said.
"For over 30 years, (Wabol) has been harboring this secret that he killed Mygon Su Cho, and that's now been discovered," Cleary told jurors.
Defense attorney Deborah Burdzik refuted the prosecutors case, telling the jury the evidence was mishandled.
"This case is a perfect example of how an innocent man can be charged with aggravated murder," Burdzik said. "In fact, this case everybody's worst nightmare."
She claims the state won't be able to prove when the DNA samples were deposited on the mask. She tried to get the jury to think about this happening to them: "what if you're try on clothing and that now has your DNA…and then somebody else gets that clothing… and someone else later commits a serious and violent crime and here you are 33-years later fighting for your freedom."
Burdzik said the state won't be able to show that the evidence is even connected to the shooting or robbery.
She said some of the original reports – including the medical examiner's report – are missing.
"Mr. Wabol was interviewed by police and he consistently claimed his innocence," Burdzik said. "It all boils down to speculation about a man's freedom and a man's life."
Despite being charged with aggravated murder, which carries the death penalty, prosecutors have decided not to seek it if they get a conviction.
The case is expected to last two weeks and is being presided by Judge Alicia A. Fuchs.
-- Brent Weisberg
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