South Korea jails dementia patient for 20 years for hospice arson

An 82-year-old man suffering from dementia was jailed for 20 years by a South Korean court on Friday for setting a fire at a hospice for the elderly in which 22 people died.

Seoul: An 82-year-old man suffering from dementia was jailed for 20 years by a South Korean court on Friday for setting a fire at a hospice for the elderly in which 22 people died.

While acknowledging the accused`s diminished mental condition, the court ruled his mental capacity "was not so impaired" that he could not understand the consequences of his actions, Hahn Ji-Hyeong, the spokesman for the Gwangju District Court, told AFP by phone.

Identified only by his surname Kim, the man was one of around 70 resident, largely bed-ridden, patients at a special hospital for the elderly and chronically ill in Janseong County, 300 kilometres (190 miles) south of Seoul.

A fire tore through the second floor of the hospital on May 27, trapping dozens of patients including stroke victims and advanced Alzheimer`s sufferers.

Although the blaze was brought under control within 30 minutes, many on the upper floor were unable to evacuate as the rooms filled with thick, acrid smoke.

A total of 22 died, most of them as the result of smoke inhalation.

Kim was taken into police custody the same day after CCTV footage showed him entering a storage room where the fire started.

He was eventually charged with arson and manslaughter.

The tragedy came as South Korea was still reeling from the loss of around 300 people -- mostly schoolchildren -- in a ferry disaster the previous month.

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