Lee Joon-seok, the captain that abandoned hundreds of passengers aboard a sinking ferry in South Korea, has received a sentence of 36 years in prison.
Prosecutors had charged Lee with negligent homicide and sought the death penalty for his role in the Sewol ferry sinking on April 16, which killed 304 people. Lee was acquitted of the homicide charge but found guilty of negligence for his role in the incident.
About 250 of those who died were high school students on a school trip, and nine people are still missing.
Investigators say that a combination of factors led to the deaths, including an inexperienced crew, an overload of improperly secured cargo and failure to evacuate the ferry. Crew members instructed passengers to remain in place when the ferry began sinking, according to survivor testimony. Pictures showed Lee leaving the boat as it leaned to one side, and video showed crew members exiting the ferry after telling passengers to stay.
Of the four senior officers charged with homicide, only Park Ki-ho, the ferry’s chief engineer, was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The rest, along with 10 other crew members, received jail sentences ranging from five to 20 years.
Lee has expressed remorse for the sinking and said he never intended to harm anyone.
The incident prompted a large national response. Parents of the victims have staged protests calling for further investigation into the sinking, and former South Korean prime minister Chung Hong-won resigned in April after receiving criticism for the government’s response.
The victims’ families derided the verdict at the sentencing and said in a statement that they were devastated, according to Reuters.
“Is this how little the lives of our children were worth?” one parent said. “The death sentence is not enough for the crew.”