At age two, Andrew Suh came to the U.S. with his family in their quest for the American dream. Today, he’s highly intelligent, self-deprecatingly funny and charming. However, at 43, Andrew has spent more than half of his life in prison.
Andrew had been an honor student. In high school, he was class president for three straight years, student body president in his senior year and on scholarship at the prestigious Providence College in Rhode Island.
While still a teenager, however, and under great duress, Andrew committed a terrible crime. He received a 100-year prison sentence, ending his seemingly limitless future. Next Tuesday, July 11, Andrew’s appeal for clemency will be heard in Chicago and with it, his dream for a second chance at life.
In Korea, Andrew’s father and mother had two children, a son, Byung Chul, 7 and Catherine, 5. A freak accident took the boy’s life for which Mr. Suh, a high-ranking military officer, blamed Catherine. In Korean culture, a male heir to carry on the family name is essential.
Under threat of divorce, Mr. Suh demanded his wife bear him a son, even though she was over 40. A pharmacist, Mrs. Suh took fertility drugs and, almost miraculously, Andrew was born.
The Suhs immigrated to Chicago and soon opened a small business. Andrew learned English rapidly and became the “family translator,” making his father abundantly proud. Catherine, however, was frequently beaten by her father.
Even while in school, Andrew worked tirelessly in the family business. Like so many immigrants, with remarkable hard work, the Suhs prospered. Meanwhile, Catherine discovered boys and developed remarkable manipulative skills.
When Catherine was 15, her father suspected she was having sex. To purge the family’s shame, he poured gas over Catherine and himself to set them on fire. “Let’s die together,” he said as 9-year-old Andrew watched in horror. (His mother wrestled the lighter from Mr. Suh.)
Not long after, Mr. Suh was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Andrew sat vigil by his father’s hospital bed for over a month and was dubbed “The Good Son” in the Korean newspaper. On his deathbed, Mr. Suh solemnly instructed Andrew to protect his mother at all times.
In 1987, however, while Andrew was at school, his mother was brutally murdered at the family dry cleaners. It was clearly a rage killing as she was stabbed thirty-five times in the face and neck.
After the police left, Catherine’s boyfriend, Robert, moved in and told Andrew to mop up his mother’s blood. (Imagine, at 13, that horrible task.) Andrew was suddenly an orphan. When Catherine turned 18, she became Andrew’s guardian and surrogate mother.
Raiding Andrew’s $800,000 inheritance, she and Robert bought a town-home, a nightclub, new cars and designer clothes. Andrew had been devoted to his father, then his mother and now it shifted to Catherine.
As Andrew went off to Providence College he had no idea Catherine had a $250,000 life insurance policy on Robert and had a diabolical plan. On a visit home from college, Andrew listened in shock as Catherine told him Robert had murdered their mother.
Andrew insisted they immediately go to the police. Catherine, however, pointed out that she had been Robert’s alibi and she’d be sent to prison. She said the only way to purge their family’s shame was for Andrew to murder Robert.
Thoroughly rejecting his sister’s idea, Andrew returned to college. Catherine phoned Andrew 66 times imploring him to “Be a good son to father and mother and save our family’s honor” Completely lost, Andrew finally relented. Catherine sent him a plane ticket, provided the gun, staged the scene in their garage and lured Robert home early.
While I’m not a detective (and don’t play one on TV) my theory is Catherine murdered her mother or manipulated Robert into doing it. Either way, in convincing Andrew to kill Robert, she got rid of the only person who knew of her involvement.
While Andrew was sentenced to 100 years, Catherine skipped town. (In absentia, she was given life without parole.) Six months later, she was captured in Hawaii with a new boyfriend and a new identity.
The D.A. and police firmly believed Catherine was the mastermind and had controlled her brother. The judge now acknowledges there was considerable “mitigation” in Andrew’s favor and doesn’t oppose clemency. (Neither does the victim’s brother.)
Forever remorseful for his crime, Andrew’s a mature 43-year-old man who, for the past 23 years, has been a model prisoner. He’s earned certificates to teach other inmates and is currently in the Hospice Program, caring for dying inmates.
Andrew’s due to be released in 17 years when he’ll be 60. With any luck, maybe sooner. In the meantime, knowing the odds are stacked against him, I write this as Andrew lives each day, with hope.
To learn more, Google “Andrew Suh You Tube” and click on the first link to the award-winning documentary “The House of Suh: A Good Son is Comitted for Life.” Andrew’s Clemency Hearing open to the public will be on July 11 in room 09-040 of the James R. Thompson Center,100 W Randolph St Chicago, IL 60601. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org