OAKLAND, Calif. -- Kyong-A Ha's relatives, seeking a cure for the insomnia she had suffered for years, tried psychology and medication without success.
So the Korean woman's family turned to Emeryville evangelist Jean Park, who saw demons as the source of the problem and decided to cast them out through prayer.
It was a decision that apparently led to Ms. Ha's death.
During an attempted exorcism last week that lasted as long as six hours, Ms. Park, her mother and three other women tried to oust the spirits, hitting the 25-year-old woman as many as 100 times on the chest and face, breaking at least 10 of her ribs and muffling her cries while Ha strained to be free, police said yesterday.
Afterward, members of the sect allegedly left Ms. Ha's corpse in the apartment for days before notifying police.
"It's a victory for Jesus Christ," Ms. Park, 30, is said to have told police.
She and the other women accused of participating in the ceremony are facing murder charges in Alameda County.
With the women scheduled to return to Oakland Municipal Court today, authorities are trying to piece together how Ms. Park, a former distributor of Herbalife nutritional supplements, could have persuaded her small flock to go along with a ceremony that Christian groups and Koreans described as bizarre.
"They are shocked not only that they beat her to death but that they didn't do anything about it," said Esra Jung, an attorney for Ms. Ha's family. Mr. Jung said the woman's relatives are "doing all they can to comfort [Ms. Ha's] lost soul."
Park's 15-member group, called the Jesus-Amen Ministries, has operated out of Emeryville, near Oakland, since January. Eight members of the sect lived in the three-bedroom apartment where the killing took place, Emeryville police Detective Barbara McDaniel said.
Ms. Park held a special prayer meeting March 8 to cast the demons out of Ms. Ha, who expected to be prayed over, but not pummeled, Mr. Jung said. But police said that while the other three women pinned Ms. Ha down, Ms. Park and her mother, Hwa Ja Ra, beat her severely.
"Park will only acknowledge that she lay hands on Ha to drive out the demons through the power of Jesus Christ," Ms. McDaniel said. "Ha tried to protect her chest area, which was believed to be a stronghold for the demons."
The striking sounds were forceful enough that church members could hear the noise on the other side of the apartment, Ms. McDaniel said.
While commanding that the evil spirits leave Ms. Ha in Christ's name, the exorcists allegedly covered the woman's face with a towel to muffle her screams and to prevent themselves from being sickened at the sight of her eyes rolling.
About 6:30 a.m. that day, the ceremony was called off after Ms. Ha appeared unconscious, Ms. McDaniel said. She was washed and wrapped in an electric blanket and a quilt .
"Park advised the other members that Ms. Ha's spirit had gone on a heavenly journey," Ms. McDaniel said. "And they were waiting for the spirit to return."
The wait lasted until last Friday, when the odor of Ms. Ha's corpse helped spread doubt. The fact that no one questioned Ms. Park earlier, Ms. McDaniel said, illustrates the influence she had over her congregation.
Ms. Park called Ms. Ha's relatives, some of whom live in Georgia, last Saturday, telling them that they had an emergency on their hands, Ms. McDaniel said. The relatives learned of the death after arriving in San Francisco Bay Area.
While Ms. Park and her 52-year-old mother come from Korea, where there is a strong tradition of Christianity, they did not convert to the religion until 1988, Ms. McDaniel said. Ms. Park was ordained through the United Fundamental Church in Los Angeles and received further training in an evangelical church in San Francisco and a Baptist church in Richmond, Calif. Ms. Park incorporated the Jesus-Amen Ministries in Los Angeles in 1992, according to state records.
Ms. McDaniel added that Ms. Park seemed somewhat charismatic and well-traveled. In fact, it was during a missionary trip Ms. Park made to Moscow in 1989 that she met two of her co-defendants, Natasha Baboulina, 19, and Evgeni Mogilevskaya, 18.
Ms. Park befriended the two women while she taught them English and converted them to Christianity. She sponsored their trip to the United States and enrolled them at Patten College in Oakland when they arrived in the fall of 1993. The school has strong ties to Korea; about 20 percent of the students come from there, and it operates a satellite campus in Seoul, according to Patten College spokesman Abraham Ruelas.
Ms. Baboulina and Ms. Mogilevskaya blended in well in the religious school, although the former had recently dropped out and planned to return to Moscow, he said. They were clean cut and didn't seem overly fervent.
Tung Mi Sin, the fifth person charged in the death, was thought to be an official in Ms. Park's organization and a former San Jose resident.