The Tokyo High Court granted the petition for retrial for a 1997 murder case today (Friday June 7, 2012, JST). It also granted petitioner Govinda Mainali‘s release from custody.
Of the cases where a death sentence or a life sentence were imposed in Japan since the end of World War II, it is said to be the eleventh case that a court granted a retrial.
However, the prosecutors may file an objection within three days (and they likely will). Even if the Court rejects the objection, the prosecutors can still file a special appeal to the Supreme Court…
Here is what happened in this case:
The victim was found strangled to death in a vacant apartment in Shibuya, Tokyo on March 19th 1997. She was also robbed 40,000 yen, and it was said that she was murdered on the night of March 8th, 1997. The case became well known since the victim was said to have lead a double life: a graduate of one of the top colleges in Japan, she worked on weekdays at a then very prestigious company, but worked as a prostitute on weekends.
There was a used condom in the toilet of the empty apartment that the victim’s body was found. DNA testing of the semen in the condom revealed that the sperm came from Govinda Mainali, a Nepali national and a restaurant employee, then 33 years old. Mainali had become a suspect because he lived in the apartment next to the one that the victim’s body was found and he told the police that he had had sex with the victim prior to the incident. Mainali stated that he paid the victim and had a sexual intercourse in the vacant apartment sometime between 25th February and 2nd March.
In addition to the semen evidence, four pubic hairs were found on victim’s body. DNA testing revealed that one hair was from the victim, one came from Mainali, and the other two came from an unknown source.
However, the sperm in the condom was more than 20 days old when it was found on the 19th, which suggested that it was disposed before the murder took place. This matched Mainali’s statement. He stated that when he and the victim met, they were in the abandoned apartment and he dumped the condom in the toilet after the sexual intercourse. There was also a possibility that other people had access to the vacant apartment.
Weighing all the evidence, Tokyo District Court found Mainali innocent of the crime in April 2000, saying that there was reasonable doubt that Mainali committed the crime. The prosecutors appealed, and the Tokyo High Court reversed the District Court decision, and sentenced Mainali to life imprisonment in December 2000. The High Court said that the District Court misjudged the evidence in the case. The Supreme Court affirmed, and the decision was finalized in 2003.
In March 2005, Mainali filed for a retrial to the Tokyo High Court. Later, a new DNA testing was conducted. The new test focused on the semen found on and inside the body of the victim. Fifteen samples from the crime scene were tested, but none of the DNA type matched Mainali’s. The unknown profile from the semen did match that of the two pubic hairs found in the crime scene.
The decision which granted Mainali a retrial today stated that it was likely that the third person whose DNA was on the victim had a sexual intercourse with the victim and later killed her.