South Korean prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for the captain of the ferry that capsized in April, killing more than 300 people, many of them school children.
Lee Joon-seok was among 15 accused of abandoning the ferry. Four, including the captain, face homicide charges.
Families and friends of the victims rallied outside the courtroom, calling for the maximum possible penalty.
Fighting off her tears, Lim Young-ae, a mother of one of the young victims said, “As a parent, I have to know the truth about why my child died. To appease my child’s unfair death by revealing the truth, we parents want these crew members to get the maximum punishment.”
The Sewol ferry sank on a routine voyage on April 16. Crew members on trial said they thought it was the coastguard’s job to evacuate passengers.
The disaster sparked nationwide mourning and criticism of the government’s handling of the rescue operation.
Though many defendants have been sentenced to death in South Korea in recent years, the last execution happened in 1997.