Life term appeal by man who says he was a minor is rejected

February 4, 2020 GMT

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — A judge has denied the appeal of a man convicted of a 1992 murder in northeastern Pennsylvania who challenged his life sentence on the grounds that he believes he was a minor at the time of the crime because the age of children is calculated differently in his birth country.

Luzerne County President Judge Michael Vough said defendant Todd Hyung-Rae Tarselli wasn’t able to prove he was under 18 at the time of the homicide and to argue otherwise would require “speculation, guess or conjecture.”

Tarselli has been serving a life term in the killing of 17-year-old Mark Bunchalk during a robbery at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Hazleton. Authorities said he shot the victim nine times and strangled him with a phone cord before fleeing with a little over $1,000.

Tarselli argued in Luzerne County Court that he believes he was 17 rather than 18 because he was adopted at a young age from South Korea, and age is calculated differently there. He said he learned from a television documentary in prison that in Korea, babies are considered a year old on the day they are born, and the age is raised each New Year’s Day. As a result, the defense argues, children in Korea will describe themselves as being a year or even two older than children in Western countries.

Vough said Monday three witnesses established that a child born in South Korea is considered to be one year old at the time of their birth and South Korea did not maintain accurate records regarding birth dates. But he said information from the adoption center indicated that Tarselli’s actual birth date was unknown and there was no other way to investigate his true birth date unless his birth mother was found.

“The only documentation submitted supports the conclusion that (Tarselli) was 18 years of age at the time of the homicide,” Vough wrote. “Any testimony to the contrary would require speculation, guess or conjecture.”

Tarselli, who is now 46 according to his assumed birthday, is serving his sentence at State Correctional Institution —Forest.