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Testimony: Cabbie key witness in Aldi's stabbing

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Three murder suspects have pointed to their friend as the lone brawler who killed a man in a Duluth Aldi's parking lot a month ago. A cab driver says different.

The cabbie's vantage point before dawn on Dec. 8 was key for Duluth police investigators who brought murder charges against four men in a slaying that shook Duluth's Korean business community and shed light on after-hours habits of club-goers in one of Gwinnett's commercial centers.

The lone at-large suspect -- Dongsoo "Justin" Park, 25 -- bought a plane ticket and absconded to his native Korea the day after the killing, Duluth police Sgt. W. Petty testified Wednesday in probable cause hearings for the remaining suspects.

All four are charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in the death of Kwang Ko, 32. Park's alleged accomplices told police in interviews that only Park confronted Ko, after they'd all been carousing after 6:30 a.m. at a restaurant called Korean Folk off Pleasant Hill Road.

Ko's friend, Jin Oh, told police they exited the restaurant that Thursday morning and escorted two women to a cab when they had a brief, noncombatant encounter with the four younger men. Park intentionally stepped in front of Oh's vehicle as the two men circled the lot and was run over, prompting Park's friends to pounce toward the car, Petty testified.

The three in-custody suspects -- Seung Won Lee, 24, Dong Ho Shin, 30, and Yeon-Tae Kang Hill, 20 -- told police they tried to drag Oh from the driver's seat but he drove off, leaving Ko behind. They told police Park and Ko then tussled in the Aldi's lot, where Ko fell, Petty said.

The cab driver, whose headlights were pointed toward the fracas, told police he saw at least four men beating Ko, and one of them making stabbing motions, Petty testified.

Petty said Ko died from puncture wounds to his leg, abdomen, back and a deep laceration across his neck. The weapon has not been recovered.

Police were clued in to the suspects' identities by Oh, who tapped rumor mills in the Korean community to gather photos and personal details about the suspects, Petty said.

A few days after the killing, Shin drove his car, which all four suspects had fled in, to an interview at Duluth police headquarters despite blood smeared blatantly around the interior. Forensic tests are pending to determine whose blood it is, Petty testified.

While no testimony or statements put the knife in any suspect's hand but Park's, Gwinnett Magistrate Judge Kristina Blum found probable cause to bind all charges to Superior Court for further disposition. The lower court lacks jurisdiction to set bond on felony murder charges.

"It's kind of like one of those cases where there's drugs found in a car," Blum told attorneys. "(The blood) should have been plainly visible to anyone present in the vehicle," who should have immediately come forward, she said.

Duluth city ordinances require that businesses with liquor licenses abide by 1:30 a.m. last calls on weekdays. In the wake of Ko's death, police said they anticipate stricter enforcement.