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(LEAD) S. Korean murder suspect in Honduras found not guilty by local court
SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean woman charged with murder in Honduras has been found not guilty and could be freed later this year, the foreign ministry in Seoul said Sunday.

   The ministry's press release said a regional court in Roatan, Honduras, found Han Ji-soo, a 27-year-old diving instructor, not guilty in what was her first main hearing held Saturday, local time. The trial took place about a month after the case was referred to the court.

   A foreign ministry official said the Honduran prosecution can appeal the verdict within 20 days, but it is unlikely the first ruling will be overturned.

   "I thought I was going to break down when the verdict was reached, but it didn't really hit me right away," Han said in a phone interview with Yonhap News Agency. "After I spoke with my father from Korea and took other congratulatory calls, I realized I was found not guilty and was really pleased."

   Han said the prosecution summoned 14 witnesses but that the three judges on hand all ruled in her favor because the prosecution lacked evidence to back its claim of her involvement.

   "I didn't want to raise my hopes too high because a lot of unexpected things had happened and bigger expectations would only lead to disappointments," Han said. "I knew the situation wasn't all that great, but I wanted to stay positive and accept the result."

   Han was arrested in August 2009 on suspicion of involvement in the 2008 death of a female backpacker from the Netherlands in Honduras. The Dutch woman died at a house Han had been sharing with others. The victim's boyfriend, who has dual citizenship in Australia and England, had been named the primary suspect but was later released.

   Han has claimed innocence. She was freed on bail in December last year and has since been under house arrest at a South Korean church in Honduras.

   Ahead of the trial, the foreign ministry last week dispatched a diplomat for consular affairs and an official at the South Korean embassy in Honduras. Seoul also sent a forensic expert from the state-run National Institute for Scientific Investigation to help Han prepare for the hearing.

   jeeho@yna.co.kr
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