A San Juan Capistrano executive was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the financially motivated murder of his business partner.

Ed Younghoon Shin, 41, was convicted Dec. 7 of first-degree murder with a special circumstance allegation that the June 2010 killing was committed for financial gain.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett denied a request by Shin’s attorneys to delay the sentencing as they attempted to subpoena the victim’s brother. Shin’s attorneys argued in a motion for a new trial that newly uncovered evidence that Paul Smith, the brother of 32-year-old victim Christopher Ryan Smith, had sold $13,000 of gold coins in Oregon two years ago, which the attorneys said undermined the prosecution’s argument that Shin killed his business partner over gold coins they bought together.

Prickett also denied a motion for a new trial before handing down the life sentence to Shin. Prickett said he did not feel the gold coins were a central aspect of the prosecution’s legal theory for the killing’s motive, Shin’s attorney, Ed Welbourn said.

Welbourn argued he needed a couple more weeks to have an Oregon judge authorize a subpoena of Paul Smith.

Welbourn also raised the issue of an ongoing scandal involving the improperly recorded phone calls between jail inmates and their attorneys. Welbourn had been inquiring if any law enforcement official had listened to the improperly recorded phone calls, but Prickett, who is overseeing the phone scandal case, said none of Shin’s calls were on a list of phone calls accessed by law enforcement.

Welbourn said he was informed that 24 of Shin’s calls were recorded.

Assemblyman Steven Choi, R-Irvine, wrote a letter to Prickett in January seeking leniency in sentencing for Shin.

Choi said he became friends with Shin’s family in 1984, but fell out of touch with them about 10 years later. He described Shin’s parents as hardworking and religious.

“Raising their only child, Ed, I am sure they did their best to raise him to their best ability by teaching him Christian principles,” Choi wrote.

“Knowing further that Ed has four children of his own, I can’t help but think what a terrible life these children will have to go through without their father at home,” Choi said. “I am sure Ed deeply regrets his actions and consequences. I wish I could help Ed, his parents, and even the victim’s family. Punishing him for what he deserves is the right thing to do…. Your leniency in sentencing him would be appreciated.”

Shin had racked up gambling debts in Las Vegas and was battling allegations of embezzling $700,000 to $900,000 from his previous employer when he killed Smith, Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy said.

Shin testified that the two got into a fistfight that led to Smith’s death, but that he did not plan to kill his business partner. He said he disposed of Smith’s body and carried on email correspondence in the victim’s name with his family and girlfriend, but could not imagine how to end it and characterized it as a “day-to-day thing.”

Shin and Smith met while working in the advertising leads industry in Orange County and agreed to set up their own company 800XChange, which primarily focused on handing off leads to debt consolidation companies, Murphy said.

The “affable, charming” Shin was as successful as Smith, a surfing enthusiast who grew up in Watsonville, California, Murphy said.

Shin was the chief financial officer while Smith was the chief executive officer of the companies they subsequently formed. Things were “going gangbusters” for the duo until Shin began shuttling back and forth from Las Vegas on private jets to bet “obscene” amounts of money, Murphy said.

And tensions rose when Shin’s prior employer sued the defendant and the victim over allegations of “improper redistribution of funds” in the range of $700,000 to $900,000, the prosecutor said. Then Shin got hit with a separate lawsuit, Murphy said.

Eventually, Shin negotiated a potential settlement of the litigation, but was given a five-month deadline, which became a problem when a then-suspicious Smith would not sign off on the agreement unless he received new protections against embezzlement, the prosecutor said.

“We need to make sure he doesn’t have room for fraud. He’s itching to do it again,” Smith wrote his attorney in an email on June 4, 2010, Murphy said. That evening, the attorney received an email, purportedly from Smith, declaring he agreed to a buyout from Shin and wished to go on a “surf safari” around the world, Murphy said.

Murphy alleged it was Shin who wrote that email as the start of a drawn-out attempt to cover up the murder.

The next day, Shin emailed company employees that they would have the week off with pay while he negotiated Smith’s future with the company, Murphy said. The prosecutor said Shin spent the days following the killing cleaning up the evidence. Still, when employees returned to work, they were met with such a fetid odor that they attempted to overcome the stench with candles and carpet deodorizer, he said.

Shin kept up an email dialogue masquerading as Smith with the victim’s brother, Paul, who worked at the company, and Smith’s parents for about nine months, Murphy said. But clues popped up throughout that led the family to worry about Smith, Murphy said. Shin said Smith abruptly left his girlfriend of two years to travel the world with a new girlfriend, Tiffany Taylor, Murphy said.

Taylor was an “atmosphere model” at a casino who did not know Chris Smith, Murphy said. Shin had emailed a picture of Taylor — while pretending to be Smith — to the victim’s brother, and it was the same photo of the former Playboy model, Murphy said.

Smith’s father eventually came to Orange County and hired a private investigator to find out what happened to his son, Murphy said. They reported him missing to Laguna Beach police, who eventually handed off the investigation to Orange County sheriff’s detectives because it was determined from forensic evidence that Smith was killed in his office. Investigators never found the body, but believe the victim was beaten to death, Murphy said.

An emotional Shin testified that he was “sorry for what happened… It was an awful thing to do. I caused a lot of people a lot of pain.” Shin testified he didn’t call 911 after the fight because “I was in shock.”

Paul Smith’s testimony was a key to the prosecution, Murphy told reporters after the verdict.

“You really saw the heart of Chris Smith through his brother,” he said.

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