Life term contested by man who says he may have been a minor
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — A man convicted of a 1992 murder is challenging 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.
Todd Hyung-Rae Tarselli, 45, 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 said in Luzerne County Court on Wednesday 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.
In court Wednesday, Tarselli said a woman brought him to an orphanage and reported he was 6 years old. Tarselli’s birthday was unknown, so the orphanage listed it as the day he entered the facility and subtracted six years to determine the year, the defense contends.
“I never had reason to question why or if my birth certificate was wrong,” Tarselli said, The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice reported . “I now believe I was 17” at the time of the crime.
During cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Jim McMonagle, Tarselli acknowledged that he has known about the cultural variation since at least 1998 but took no legal action.
Luzerne County Judge Michael Vough did not rule immediately, telling the parties to file briefs containing their legal arguments.
If the challenge is successful, state law would require resentencing to a term of at least 35 years to life. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling has barred mandatory life terms for juvenile offenders.