WILKES-BARRE – A Butler Township man serving a life sentence in a 1992 homicide case says he should be considered for a reduced sentence because he was born in South Korea and a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime, despite a birth date that says he was an adult.
Todd Hyung-Rae Tarselli, now 39, states in court papers that because Korea calculates ages differently than the United States, he was only 17 at the time he was charged with shooting and robbing his friend, 17-year-old Mark Bunchalk, and new state laws prohibit life sentences for juveniles.
The recently passed law says juveniles convicted of first- and second-degree murder can no longer receive mandatory life sentences when tried as an adult.
Though that does not mean a judge is precluded from imposing a life sentence, the bill allows for a judge to choose from a wide range of sentencing options.
Offenders who are 15 to 17 years of age would face a minimum of 25 years for second-degree murder and 35 years for first-degree murder.
The sentencing provision of the bill came in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.
Tarselli was charged in the January 1992 incident in which prosecutors say he shot Bunchalk nine times in the head, strangled him with a telephone cord and stole $1,068 from the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant where Bunchalk had been working.
In November 1992, Tarselli was sentenced to life in prison, plus 12 to 25 years, after pleading guilty to related charges, including first-degree murder.
He appealed his sentence to the state Superior Court, but his sentence was upheld in September 1994.
In his petition, Tarselli writes that he was born in South Korea and adopted from a Korean orphanage by an American family in 1980.
Due to the Korean cultural difference of how age is calculated, (Tarselli) is in fact at least one year younger chronologically and (was) a juvenile at the time of the offense, the petition says.
Tarselli explained that in South Korea, when a child is born it is considered 1 year old and all Koreans celebrate their birthday on the Chinese New Year.
Thus, when a child is born in Korea, he is 1 year old, further, if the following day is Chinese New Year, he is considered 2 years old when in fact chronologically he is only two days old, Tarselli explained.
Tarselli states that because he was only 17 at the time of the alleged murder -- not 18 as indicated by his official date of birth -- he made the guilty plea unaware of an available defense.
He also says that as a juvenile he was interrogated by the police without an adult present and did not understand the waiver of his Miranda Rights.
Tarselli says his birth date of Nov. 14, 1973, is incorrect and that he was actually born sometime in late 1974 or early 1975.
In November 1979, Tarselli states, he was brought to the orphanage with no documentation, and his birth year was determined by asking him how old he was at the time, which was 6, and subtracting that number from 1979, resulting in the 1973 birth date.
A county judge has not yet scheduled a hearing on Tarselli's request but gave attorneys until this month to file any additional court papers before setting a date.