Police: Suspect confessed to murder of Unification Church member

AP, Sep. 10, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A Unification Church member killed while soliciting donations in an apartment complex was sexually assaulted and strangled, according to police.

At a bond hearing Monday for Eugene Evans, 21, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Detective David Phillips said Evans confessed killing Jin-Joo Byrne, 18, of Seattle, shortly after his Aug. 29 arrest.

“During an interview, he admitted … that he was responsible for the murder,” Phillips told Mecklenburg District Judge Phil Howerton.

Howerton declined to set a bond for Evans, who remained at the Mecklenburg County Jail.

Byrne’s body was found in a vacant apartment Aug. 29, one day after she disappeared while going door to door at the Roseland Apartments.

Phillips said Evans lured Byrne into a vacant apartment, then choked her until she was unconscious, sexually assaulted her and robbed her of money and the costume jewelry she was offering in exchange for donations to the church.

He said a medical examiner’s autopsy determined that Byrne was strangled.

Evans has been charged with murder, kidnapping and robbery. Phillips said at least one sexual assault charge is likely to be added once investigators receive lab reports.

Phillips said Evans claimed he was high on crack cocaine at the time of the killing.

Byrne had graduated from high school in Seattle in June and was among a group of Unification Church members who traveled to Charlotte to investigate their faith or prepare for missionary work.

She had teamed with another member in soliciting donations, but they decided to split up and work independently. She was reported missing after she failed to meet with her group around 5 p.m. on Aug. 28.

Search dogs led police to her body the following afternoon.

Residents of the apartment complex told investigators they had seen Evans with Byrne around the time of her disappearance, leading to his arrest.

Evans has a lengthy criminal history and had been booked earlier in August on a breaking-and-entering charge. At Monday’s bond hearing, prosecutor Glenn Cole noted that Evans had been released from the Mecklenburg County Jail only 24 hours before Byrne disappeared.

The Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, was founded in 1954 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and claims 50,000 members in the United States.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday September 11, 2002.
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