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May 28, 2023

Murder-for-hire case goes to jury

If the proof is in the evidence, then alleged South Santa Clara
County hit man Gustavo Covian could soon be a free man.
SANTA CLARA – If the proof is in the evidence, then alleged South Santa Clara County hit man Gustavo Covian could soon be a free man.

That’s what his attorney said to a group of 12 jurors from throughout the county Thursday during the closing arguments in the trial in which the prosecution alleges Covian was hired to kill former Gilroy restaurant owner Young Kim by Kim’s wife, Kyung Kim.

Young Kim was last reported seen on Nov. 13, 1998.

“Gustavo Covian walked into this courtroom innocent by law – now it’s your obligation to uphold that law with a not guilty verdict,” Covian’s attorney Thomas Worthington told the jury Thursday. “It’s the DA’s obligation to prove the defendant guilty, and you cannot trust the quality of evidence the DA has brought forward.

“In 33 years of doing this, I don’t remember one case without a shred of direct evidence like this one.”

Worthington went on to point out that after lengthy searches by the Gilroy Police Department of the reported Hollister burial site no body has ever been recovered, no homicide scene has ever been determined by police and that forensic evidence tests for hair, skin, clothing fibers and blood on the alleged murder weapon seized from Covian’s Hollister home were negative.

But Deputy District Attorney Peter Waite believes the lack of “direct” evidence is moot.

“The most convincing evidence in this case are the things the victim has done to convict himself,” Waite said in his closing argument. “He bragged about the killing; he threatened (Kyung) Kim after the incident to get more money; he stole food from the restaurant after the killing and intimidated the staff; and he was caught directly by a Gilroy Police Department camera admitting to the murder.

“This is a man who is not subtle, but definitely scary. He has an impact on witnesses – you saw him explode at (witness) Jesus Estrada while he was on the stand.”

Gustavo Covian, 39; his now ex-wife and mother to three of his children, Maria Covian, 28; Gustavo’s Covian’s brother, Ignacio Covian, 31; and Kyung Kim, 46, are charged with involvement in the disappearance and alleged murder of 49-year-old Young Kim, Kyung Kim’s husband of 24 years and father of her two children.

All four defendants are facing first-degree murder charges and have been in custody in county jail since 2001. The other defendants – none of whom can legally testify in the current trial – will go to trial following Gustavo Covian. If convicted of being the hired gun in the twisted saga Covian could face life in jail without parole.

Closing arguments will finish today and a verdict is expected to come down sometime early next week, Waite said. Gustavo Covian was not called to testify in the trial.

Both attorneys admit that the jury’s reception of key witness Adrian Vizcaino will be critical to the outcome of the trial.

Vizcaino testified earlier in the trial that Gustavo Covian had bragged to him about killing Young Kim and that he was taken by two of Gustavo Covian’s brothers on different occasions to the alleged former grave site of Young Kim near Vibroras Creek in Hollister. But the body has since been moved, Vizcaino claims, though he doesn’t know where.

Worthington has claimed since the trial began that Gustavo Covian was set up by Adrian Vizcaino, his brother-in-law and current convict turned state’s witness for the trial, because Gustavo Covian had failed to hire a lawyer for Vizcaino when he was arrested in 1999.

If his testimony is found truthful, Vizcaino will be released on parole from his current 11-year sentence at San Benito County jail for armed robbery.

“You must reject the entire testimony of Adrian Vizcaino,” Worthington said. “Adrian himself can’t establish where he was on Nov. 13, 1998. Maybe he’s responsible for what happened to Mr. Kim – but the problem is I don’t have reasonable proof.”

Waite defended Vizcaino by referring to his almost six-hour long testimony which appeared to have very few holes, and reminded jurors of the video recorded in the back seat of a GPD patrol car when Gustavo Covian was arrested on April 28, 2000.

“… that they don’t find the gun upstairs Lord, I implore you, that they don’t find it, that they don’t find it, that they don’t find it,” Covian said in the video. “I give up everything so that you set me free. Don’t allow me to go to jail, me and my wife. You can make, with your power, I think, that everything be a mistake …”

Worthington said the reason for his client’s statements was because he was on misdemeanor probation and was not allowed to possess a gun.

“He’s not frantic with anxiety and fear because he violated a misdemeanor probation,” Waite said. “He’s afraid they’re going to find a murder weapon – which they did.”

Witnesses in the trial have stated that both Kyung and Young Kim had been participating in extramarital affairs for a number of years, and that their marriage arranged in their native Korea was deteriorating and abusive. Kyung Kim waited 16 days to report her husband missing, and when she did detectives say she was reluctant to give information.

Young Kim was last seen entering the garage of his home, according to a cook at the former Gavilan Restaurant at 6120 Monterey Road.

Waite claims the murder was set up by Maria Covian, a waitress at the Kim’s restaurant, and Kyung Kim for a $10,000 to $15,000 contract, and that following the murder Gustavo Covian continued to extort Kyung Kim for up to $100,000. Gustavo and Maria Covian purchased a new home and two new cars between 1998 and 1999, but Worthington claims they were paid for by loans from other members of the Covian family.

Korean speaking witnesses who appeared at the trial last week verified loaning Kyung Kim $50,000 between July 1998 and March 1999; Worthington said the loans were for the restaurant, and Kyung Kim’s younger sister acknowledged that Kyung had lent at least $10,000 to her father in Korea in 1998.

The defense has pointed to suicide or an extended trip to Mexico or Korea as to Young Kim’s whereabouts, but his children and other family members said he was not suicidal and would not leave his home without notice. His car, car keys, passport, credit cards, suitcase and clothes all remained after his disappearance.

Police have searched the alleged Hollister grave site of Young Kim in the Vibroras Creek’s dry bed near Churchhill and Fairview roads with cadaver dogs, a helicopter fly-over and earth-moving equipment at least four times since 1999.

Staff Report
A staff member edited this provided article.

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