Two decisions concerning wrongful convictions will be handed down today in Japan. One is Ohsaki case which I posted about yesterday, and the other is Fukui case.
Fukui case involves a 1986 murder of a 15-year-old girl. The defendant (Shoji Maekawa) in the case was acquitted by the Fukui District Court in 1990, but the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court vacated the decision and gave Maekawa 8 years in prison in 1995 (the Japanese criminal justice system allows the prosecutors to appeal a verdict of acquittal).
Maekawa petitioned to open a retrial in 2004, and the Kanazawa Branch granted his petition in November 2011. The prosecutors filed an objection to the High Court, and the decision by the High Court will be handed down today (on March 6th, 2013).
Below is an article by Yomiuri Shimbun in 2011:
KANAZAWA–A high court decided Wednesday to open a retrial over the 1986 murder of a 15-year-old middle school girl in Fukui, for which a 46-year-old man has already served a seven-year prison term.
“There is no objective evidence to prove the involvement of Shoji Maekawa in the murder case. There is reasonable doubt as to whether he is the perpetrator,” presiding Judge Shinichiro Ito said in announcing the decision at the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court.
The murder took place on the night of March 19, 1986, at a municipal-run housing unit. The girl was struck in the head with a blunt object and stabbed in the neck and face with kitchen knives.
The Fukui prefectural police arrested Maekawa, an acquaintance of the girl, in March the following year on suspicion of murdering her. The Fukui District Court acquitted him in September 1990, but the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court reversed the ruling and sentenced him to seven years in prison in February 1995. The sentence was finalized in 1997 at the Supreme Court.
Maekawa filed for a retrial at the high court branch in July 2004.
There were no strong tangible pieces of evidence in the case, but the Fukui police arrested Maekawa based on such evidence as the testimony of his acquaintances. Maekawa denied the charges during police interrogations and throughout the trial.
His defense counsel had demanded the prosecution disclose all evidence, including records of statements he made during the investigation, at hearings for the retrial appeal that started in 2004. The high court branch also recommended the disclosure.
The prosecution has disclosed 125 items, including 29 depositions of acquaintances and other witnesses as well as autopsy photos of the victim.
In handing down Wednesday’s decision, Ito said, “Concerning pieces of evidence that existed when his sentence was finalized, they are recognized as new evidence if they weren’t actually reflected in the Supreme Court decision.”
In so doing, the high court branch reexamined the case, including the possible profile of the real culprit.
Considering the fact that the victim’s body had wounds with lengths shorter than the width of the blades of two kitchen knives the police identified as tools used in the murder, Ito said, “Normally the length of a wound is longer than the width of an edged implement. Doubts remain about the top court’s conclusion that the injuries were made by the two edged tools alone.”
Concerning a witness account that there were bloodstains on the dashboard of Maekawa’s car, tests showed only blood different from the victim’s and thus “reasonable doubt” exists as to whether he is the real culprit, Ito pointed out.
During the retrial appeal hearings, Maekawa’s defense counsel argued that no fingerprints or footprints were left; the culprit brought a weapon into the girl’s home; and the culprit used a kotatsu footwarmer covering to prevent her blood from spreading. Therefore, the real culprit had calm powers of judgment and the capacity to think clearly at the time of the murder, the defense argued.
“Although the finalized sentence recognized the crime as an action by a person who fell into the sate of diminished capacity influenced by thinner he had inhaled, there are many points that can only be explained by it having been done by a person who was in a rational state of mind with a high mental capacity,” Ito said.
Examining all of the old and new evidence, no objective facts exist to conclude Maekawa is the real perpetrator, Ito concluded.
It was the first decision to start a retrial on a murder or any other serious crime since a decision on the Ashikaga murder case in June 2009, in which the innocence of the person who filed the appeal has already been finalized.
“I’m relieved,” Maekawa said at a press conference at a Toyama Prefecture hospital where he has been undergoing treatment.
The Nagoya High Public Prosecutors Office will soon decide how it will respond to the decision after careful consideration, according to Takashi Nonoue, deputy chief prosecutor at the office.
Prosecutors can file an objection to a high court decision to allow a retrial and the high court will make another decision to uphold or retract the retrial decision. Both the prosecution and the defense can further file a special appeal to the Supreme Court. In that case, the top court will make a final decision on whether the retrial shall be held.