This week, a federal judge ordered North Korea to pay the parents of Otto Warmbier and their son’s estate more than $501 million for fatally mistreating him and causing the death of the University of Virginia student.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier filed the legal action in April seeking damages. The North Korean government never responded. On Dec. 19, Beryl Howell, chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., heard evidence from the Warmbier family and North Korea experts. On Christmas Eve, Howell issued a 46-page opinion granting the Warmbiers a default judgment and the damages.
Otto Warmbier, of Wyoming, Ohio, was ending a visit to North Korea in January 2016 when authorities arrested him at the airport in the capital city of Pyongyang. Three weeks later, Warmbier delivered a stilted “confession” to stealing a poster from a hotel. In March 2016, Warmbier was convicted in a show trial of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
In June 2017, the North Korean government released Otto Warmbier, but he returned to Cincinnati with a massive brain injury that had left him blind, deaf and unable to move under his own power. He died June 19, 2017, at 21.
Otto Wambier was an unfortunate pawn to North Korea. The judge pointed out that four days after Warmbier’s detention at the Pyongyang airport, North Korea claimed to have tested its first hydrogen bomb. A few days later, after Congress passed new sanctions on North Korea, and the NK government released Warmbier’s “confession.” The trial and sentencing occurred one day after President Barack Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions on North Korea.