Murder trial likely to be severed

In an unexpected move, the prosecutor in one of Gilroy’s biggest
murder trials in years agreed Monday to try one of the four
defendants separately.
SAN JOSE – In an unexpected move, the prosecutor in one of Gilroy’s biggest murder trials in years agreed Monday to try one of the four defendants separately.

Attorneys representing the four defendants – Gustavo Covian, 39, Maria Covian, 28, Ignacio Covian, 31 and Kyung Kim, 46 – and a member of the district attorney’s office appeared before a Superior Court judge in San Jose hoping to be assigned a judge and court room for the trial. Instead, the judge said the chance of starting the trial this week was “slim” due to the backlog in the courts.

Former husband and wife Gustavo Covian and Maria Covian; Gustavo’s brother Ignacio Covian; and Kim are all charged with involvement in the November 1998 disappearance and suspected murder of 49-year-old Young Kim, Kyung Kim’s husband of 24 years and owner of the former Gavilan Restaurant at 6120 Monterey Road.

It now appears as though Gustavo Covian – the alleged trigger man, according to at least one police interview – will be tried separately from the other three defendants.

“I will agree to try Gustavo separately if this trial gets started right away,” said Peter Waite, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the trial who in previous weeks had said he would object to trying Gustavo Covian alone. “They are all equally charged, so this is a matter of convenience.”

The severance is designed to ease the burden of a county court system suffocating in a backlog of paperwork and delayed trials due to a 72-hour strike of more than 600 Santa Clara County Superior Court employees last week, Waite said.

But Thomas Worthington, Gustavo Covian’s attorney, said the fact that his client will likely be tried alone is essential to proving his innocence. The severance for Gustavo Covian will not be officially decided until it is considered by the judge assigned to the trial.

“I don’t think my client could get a fair trial if he was together with the other defendants,” said Thomas Worthington, Gustavo Covian’s attorney. “There are many key pieces of evidence out there that have nothing to do with my client, but with the jury it might become a guilt by association type thing.”

Fearing the murder trial might be delayed until after the court’s winter holiday, which begins Dec. 20 and ends Jan. 6, Waite, Worthington and the three other attorneys agreed that there is a much better chance of being assigned a judge and court room for a single-defendant trial. A trial with four defendants is much more difficult to schedule because of the conflicting schedules of the five attorneys, Waite said.

Gustavo Covian will likely be granted severance because his defense has declared it is ready for trial, which could start as early as next Monday, Worthington said.

Ignacio Covian was the only one of the defendants in court this morning, and he waived his right for a speedy trial – paving the way for his brother to be tried alone. Ignacio Covian, Maria Covian and Kim will not likely be tried until January, Waite said.

“If we all had our choice the trial would begin today,” Worthington said this morning. “But obviously we are in a special situation (with the strike aftermath). I think if we start my client’s trial next week it will be done by the break.”

When the trial does begin, a grand jury selected from throughout the county will try to sort out exactly what happened to Young Kim, who according to court documents was last seen entering his former Gilroy home in the 9400 block of Rancho Hills Drive in November 1998. Following his disappearance, Kyung Kim waited 16 days to report her husband missing to Gilroy police.

The Kim’s marriage that was arranged by Young Kim’s family in the couple’s native Korea had been steadily dissolving at the time of Young Kim’s disappearance. Police found divorce papers in Young Kim’s green Mitsubishi 3000 glove compartment after his disappearance, according to a 400-page court document released after the arraignment hearing last December. A week before her husband’s disappearance, Kyung Kim allegedly approached Maria Covian, a waitress at the Kim’s restaurant, about hiring someone to kill her husband. Maria said she knew people who could do the job, but that it would cost between $10,000 and $15,000.

Gilroy police now believe those people were Maria’s husband whom she lived with in Hollister at the time, Gustavo Covian, and Ignacio Covian. A source close to Gustavo Covian interviewed by police also verifies in court documents that on the night Young Kim was last seen he was kidnapped from his Gilroy home by the two Covian brothers before being transferred to Gustavo Covian’s Hollister home, murdered and buried in a nearby creek.

The source said that Gustavo Covian boasted of firing one single shot to the side of Young Kim’s head that killed him immediately. The body was then wrapped in plastic and the blood cleaned with bed sheets before the body was transferred from the Covian’s former Fairview Road home to Vibroras Creek, the source said.

Police have searched the creek at least four times since 1999 – sometimes with dogs – but have yet to find a body.

In May of 2000, Maria Covian agreed to secretly meet with a Gilroy detective in Fremont, at which time she allegedly disclosed that her husband told her of the murder. Maria Covian has since filed for a divorce from her husband.

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