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May 31, 2023

New preliminary examination dates set in murder case

A new preliminary examination hearing schedule has been set in the homicide case against Sang Ji and Jung Choi, according to court records.

The preliminary examination hearing in the murder of Yoon Ji is now set for 8:30 a.m. March 5-7 in courtroom 3 of the San Benito County Courthouse. The parties agreed to those new dates at a hearing last Thursday.

The preliminary examination is where a judge will decide if there’s enough evidence for a jury trial. It has been delayed in the case against Jung Choi and Sang Ji several times now, with one public defender previously attributing it to a lack of discovery from the sheriff’s office.

The preliminary exam will be more than a year after arrests in the case. Homicide cases typically take a long time, sometimes a year or more, before reaching a trial.

The victim’s husband Ji and his alleged mistress Choi have been charged with the homicide and remain in custody at the county jail on more than $2 million in bail each.

For the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office, which is overseeing the investigation, the case started Dec. 2 of 2017 when one of the two daughters – Serena Ji – contacted authorities from Los Angeles where she lives to report her mother as missing after not hearing from her since Nov. 27. On the day before, the daughter had received “an odd message from her father, Sang Ji, stating her mother went to South Korea unexpectedly,” according to a prior sheriff’s office statement.

Afterward, Serena Ji filed the missing person’s report on her mother. The sheriff’s office issued a search warrant and served it on Dec. 6 of that year.  JI and Choi were arrested and booked in the San Benito County Jail on suspicion of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

On Dec. 20 of 2017, authorities discovered Yoon Ji’s body buried in a ravine in the 2300 block of Salinas Grade Road near San Juan Bautista with the remains stuffed in a suitcase.

In a separate civil case, meanwhile, a San Benito County judge has ordered two suspects to pay a total of $40 million to the two daughters of the victim.

Catharina Ji and Serena Ji filed the lawsuit in San Benito County Superior Court against their father Sang Ji, 49, of Hollister and Jung Choi, 45, of South Korea.

Now-retired Judge Harry Tobias ruled against the defaulting defendants in the civil case and ordered them to jointly pay the $40 million sum with $20 million going to each of the two daughters, though the plaintiffs’ attorney James Hann from the Hann Law Firm has said he doubts they’ll ever see those amounts. Hann in speaking to San Benito Live in a previous interview noted how damage amounts in such judgments are “independent of ability to pay.”

Courtesy of court filings, this is a photo of Yoon Ji with daughters Catharina and Serena.

-Kollin Kosmicki