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Teen pleads guilty to slay of Korean restauranteur

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A Manhattan teenager pleaded guilty last week to murdering a Korean restaurant worker by smashing his head with a 10-pound paving stone, the Queens district attorney said.

Laquan Stowe, a 17-year-old from East Harlem, admitted to killing Jong Rim Lee in the lobby of Lee’s Flushing apartment building at 35-07 147th St. in the early morning on Sept. 23, 2000, said Queens DA Richard Brown.

Stowe, who was only 15 when he killed the immigrant Lee, pleaded guilty last Thursday with the expectation that he would receive seven years to life when he is sentenced by State Supreme Court Judge Robert Hanophy on April 9, said the district attorney.

Occurring only three weeks after five teenagers allegedly beat a Chinese deliveryman to death with a brick in Springfield Gardens, Lee’s murder hit the borough’s Asian-American community hard. Police arrested Stowe eight months after the crime, shortly after arresting his alleged accomplice, Shamell Solomon, 20, of Brooklyn.

According to the complaint, Stowe and Solomon, wearing doo-rags on their heads, followed Lee into the lobby of his apartment building. Stowe smashed the 10-pound paving stone over Lee’s head, and Solomon allegedly rummaged through his pockets, leaving Lee only with a $1.50 Metrocard, the complaint said.

The building’s superintendent found Lee in the lobby, and Lee was rushed to the hospital. He died three days later of brain injuries.

Solomon, who pleaded not guilty to murder in the second degree, is currently being held without bail and is awaiting trial.

Police initially investigated whether the murder was part of a gang-initiation rite since a gang’s graffiti tag was found scrawled on the outside wall of the apartment building.

A video camera mounted in the lobby filmed the incident. The video showed someone lifting the stone with two hands, but the actual strike was not shown on film. After initially viewing the tape, police thought the killer may have been a woman. But on closer examination, police were able to produce two sketches from the videotape, and those sketches eventually led to the arrests of Stowe and Solomon.

Since Lee was the sole provider for the household, his family was left without means to pay the rent. His four children took various jobs to help pay expenses, but his wife, Moung Sun, who has diabetes, still was unable to pay the rent. In March 2001, the landlord took the Lees to court in a failed attempt to evict them.

Eventually, with the help of two organizations, the Lees got back on their feet.

In May 2001, the Lees moved to a two-bedroom apartment in East Elmhurst that was purchased and renovated by Asian-Americans for Equality, a community development group. The Bridge Fund, an organization that provides financial assistance to poor families, paid the first month’s rent, security deposit, and moving fees. The youngest child of the family enrolled in Barnard College this fall.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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