Category Archives: Asia

Retrial of the Higashi-Sumiyoshi Arson Case

I have posted several times about the Higashi-Sumiyoshi Arson Case. Keiko Aoki and Tatsuhiro Boku were released from prison after the Osaka High Court upheld the district court’s decision to start a retrial last October.  Here’s the latest news on the case.

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From the Japan Times,

Woman maintains innocence during retrial for daughter’s death in 1995 fire

Kyodo, May 2, 2016

A woman who served more than 20 years of a life term declared Monday during her retrial that she is innocent of killing her 11-year-old daughter in a 1995 house fire.

“I did not do it,” Keiko Aoki, 52, said at the Osaka District Court. “Neither did I conspire (in the girl’s death). I am innocent.”

Aoki is set to be acquitted on Aug. 10 along with her de facto husband Tatsuhiro Boku, 50, as prosecutors have decided not to pursue fresh guilty verdicts for the pair.

But the prosecutors did not request a not-guilty verdict in their closing arguments during Boku’s retrial last week, and have denied that police conducted unlawful investigations.

Aoki told the court she had falsely confessed to the murder of her daughter, and that she “felt like dying” after a prolonged interrogation by an investigator who continued to shout at her. Continue reading

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Launch of Innocence Project Japan

This weekend I had the good fortune to speak at two events, one in Tokyo and one in the Kyoto/Osaka area, kicking off the Innocence Project Japan.  Given the enthusiasm, passion and energy witnessed during these events, I am quite optimistic that this project will before too long free the innocent and reform the Japanese legal system.  More than 120 people attended the kick-off symposium on Friday in Tokyo, and more than 150 attended the more extensive event in Osaka/Kyoto.  And both of these events received such great attendance during what was a three-day holiday weekend!  The team putting the IP Japan together include law professors, scientists, defense lawyers, and other professionals. Law professor Kana Sasakura of Konan University, who is also a contributing editor on this blog, and Engineering professor Mitsuyuki Inaba of Ritsumeikan University in Osaka, have taken the lead in organizing these efforts.

Japan has already seen a number of high-profile exonerations.  But they have more work to do.  Currently, police are allowed to interrogate suspects for days on end.  And there is no widespread use of electronic recording during these interrogations.  So interrogation reform aimed at curbing false confessions must be a primary goal of the new project.  But Japan has some advantages other countries don’t have.  For example, currently incentivized snitch testimony is not allowed, although proposals to introduce this type of troublesome testimony are lurking.  And given Japan’s world leadership in technology, the country has a solid stepping off point for ensuring access to DNA testing and proper forensic controls in the future.

A lawyer who obtained a recent exoneration in an arson/murder case gave a stirring presentation about how his defense team reconstructed the house in which the fire occurred, and then performed numerous experiments with the reconstructed house which demonstrated that the fire could not have happened in the way his client said in his confession.  This proved the confession to be false.  Interestedly, the prosecution then reconstructed the house as well, and performed it’s own experiment.  This too demonstrated that the inmate’s confession was false.  The case ended in an exoneration. The defense effort in this case was top-notch, and would have made any innocence organization anywhere in the world quite proud.

Members of the Taiwan Association for Innocence attended the event.  They spoke about their recent success, including one exoneration and two grants of retrial based on new evidence of innocence.  They presented the IP of Japan with a beautiful sculpture of a horse, which represents moving forward with speed.

Innocence organizations now exist in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines in Asia, with organizations forming in China and Thailand.  Asia may have enough innocence efforts at this point to begin coordinating efforts, or possibly form an Asian Network.  Whether they form a Network will depend on political realities, but they intend on working together to bring international collaboration to their work.

Here is the powerpoint presentation used by founder Inaba that you might find interesting.  It describes the structure of the new project:  IPJ_kickoff_Mar2016_Inaba

And here are some pictures from the events…..

 

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Exoneree Sugiyama Dies at 69

A sad news: Takao Sugiyama died on October 27. He was exonerated in 2011 from a robbery-murder case (Fukawa Case) in 1967.  For more on Fukawa Case, read here.

From The Japan Times:

Man Acquitted in Retrial of ’67 Fukawa Incident Robbery-Murder is Dead at 69

From Jiji: 

A man sentenced to life in a high-profile 1967 robbery-murder known as the Fukawa incident, and acquitted in a later retrial, died on Oct. 27 at the age of 69, lawyers who fought for him in the case revealed Sunday.

Takao Sugiyama had been hospitalized after his health deteriorated around summer, according to the lawyers. Continue reading

Preparing for the Launch of a Network to Support the Wrongfully Convicted in Japan

In May of this year, scholars and attorneys concerned about wrongful convictions in Japan gathered in Kyoto and started to prepare for the launch of an Innocence Project in Japan. We are planning to launch the project in April 2016. Here’s an article about our project.

From the Japan Times:

New technologies, improved practices may boost number of criminal retrials

Kyodo, Nov. 2, 2015

The recent release of a couple from prison after a court ordered a 1995 arson-murder case reopened may allow more people convicted of serious crimes to get a second shot at proving their innocence.

Technical innovations in DNA forensic science modeled on practices in the United States, as well as introduction of the lay judge system, are creating a framework that could provide lawyers and those who may have been wrongly convicted with access to various experts to help bolster their cases.

But many hurdles remain on the road to change.

Keiko Aoki and Tatsuhiro Boku, who had been serving life sentences for lighting a fire that killed Aoki’s 11-year-old daughter, were freed late last month after 20 years behind bars.

The Osaka High Court concluded that a retrial was appropriate as the fire could have been accidental, citing the results of an experiment conducted by the couple’s lawyers to simulate the actual blaze.

Moreover, doubt was cast on confession by Boku, Aoki’s de facto husband, as the simulation demonstrated the fire could have been accidental.

In 1990, Toshikazu Sugaya was arrested and later sentenced to life by a Tochigi Prefecture high court for the murder of a 4-year-old girl. Key in the murder conviction was DNA evidence found on the victim’s clothing that prosecutors said matched Sugaya’s.

But with the primitive forensic technology at the time, more than eight out of every 1,000 people would have also drawn an identical DNA match.

After spending 17½ years in prison, a further DNA test in 2009 conclusively showed that Sugaya was innocent, and he was acquitted and awarded about ¥80 million in government compensation.

Perhaps even more sensational due to the international attention it garnered was the case of Govinda Prasad Mainali, a Nepalese man who was wrongly jailed for 15 years while serving a life sentence for the 1997 murder of a female Tokyo Electric Power Co. worker who reportedly had moonlighted as a prostitute.

The Tokyo High Court ordered a retrial after sets of exculpatory DNA evidence were linked to an unidentified man who had sexual contact with the victim just hours before her death. Mainali was released and deported back to his native Nepal after he was exonerated in November 2012.

Swabs of semen recovered from the woman’s body that the prosecution deemed too small of a sample to analyze using the existing technologies at the time were tested in 2011 and determined not to be from Mainali.

Mainali was later awarded ¥68 million in compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.

Former professional boxer Iwao Hakamada, who had been sentenced to death over the 1966 murder of four members of a family, was released after nearly 48 years behind bars when test results indicated that the DNA type from bloodstains detected on five items of clothing believed to have been worn by the culprit differed from Hakamada’s.

The blood was thought to be that of the attacker and determined unlikely to be from any of the victims.

Although Hakamada initially admitted to the charges, he changed his plea to innocent when the trial opened.

Prosecutors in Japan have a staggering 99 percent conviction rate. Confessions are in most cases considered the strongest evidence and acquittals are anathema to ambitious prosecutors and judges alike, experts argue.

Although it may appear that retrials are on the rise, many observers point out that without “convincing and fresh” evidence the courts remain reluctant to order retrials. And even with fresh evidence — unless it can conclusively prove a person’s innocence — requests for retrials have historically been denied.

Inspired by the U.S.-based Innocence Project, researchers in Japan aim to launch a support network next spring for people believed to have been wrongly convicted.

Mitsuyuki Inaba, a professor at the College of Policy Science and Graduate School of Policy Science at Ritsumeikan University, is spearheading the project. He has criticized the lack of remorse expressed by investigators in wrongful conviction cases and says more must be done to determine the root causes and prevent them.

“In the world of engineering, when an airplane accident occurs, a thorough investigation is conducted,” Inaba said. “But what on earth are the people involved in laws doing when serious human error is committed in the cases of wrongful convictions?”

The Innocence Project, which was founded in 1992 at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, is a nonprofit organization.

In questionable cases, scholars, journalists and lawyers work together to gather new evidence in response to convicts who claim innocence. New technology such as DNA testing, as well as researching cases from fresh perspectives, have resulted in retrials and acquittals of some death-row inmates.

Similar activities have spread to countries such as France, Australia and Taiwan, creating a more global network.

Kana Sasakura, an associate professor of the Konan University Faculty of Law in Kobe, said Japanese courts will not allow retrials unless fresh evidence is strong enough to overturn the original judgment, but collecting such proof remains extremely difficult.

“Unlike in ordinary criminal trials, there is no system for court-appointed defense lawyers, who are publicly financed, at retrials,” said Sasakura. “It is very difficult for convicts held in prisons and detention houses to collect new evidence by themselves that could overturn their convictions.”

Sasakura remains hopeful that eventually the Japanese university project will gain nonprofit status.

“In the future, it would be desirable for the Japanese project to be operated like an NPO, raising donations from the public,” Sasakura said. “For the time being, however, it will probably be operated more stably by having the head office at a university, which will be useful for education if students are interested in joining.”

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More on Higashi-Sumiyoshi Arson Case

Read here about Higashi-Sumiyoshi case.

PAIR HELD 20 YEARS IN ARSON-MURDER CASE RELEASED FOR RETRIAL

A man and woman serving life in prison for starting a fire that killed the woman’s 11-year-old daughter were freed Monday when the Osaka High Court ordered their release following a decision to reopen the arson-murder case.

At around 2 p.m., Keiko Aoki, 51, walked out of a prison in Wakayama Prefecture while Tatsuhiro Boku, 49, was released from a prison in Oita Prefecture.

They had been behind bars for two decades. Prosecutors had sought to prevent their release.

“I was finally able to return to a world we take for granted,” Aoki told supporters immediately after her release. “I can hear my daughter saying somewhere in this blue sky, ‘Mom, I’m so happy for you.’ “

Speaking in front of Oita Prison, Boku was ebullient.

“Being out here for the first time in 20 years, I feel as if I am standing on foreign land,” he said. “It’s like a dream and the scenery before me looks brilliant.”

Last Friday, the Osaka High Court endorsed a March 2012 lower court decision to grant a retrial to Aoki, the mother of the 11-year-old victim, and Boku, her de facto husband. Both were serving life terms after being found guilty of setting their house on fire in a bid to kill the girl and collect on the life insurance. Continue reading

Breaking News: Osaka High Court Rejects Appeal by Prosecutor, Orders Release in Higashi-Sumiyoshi Arson Case

Osaka High Court rejected the appeal by the prosecutor today, and ordered release of two petitioners (serving life sentences) in a high profile arson case, Higashi Sumiyoshi Case. Read about the case here.

In this case, the Osaka District Court ruled to grant a retrial in 2012. The Presiding Judge stated in the decision that the petitioners’ confessions were unreliable and unreasonable from a “scientific viewpoint”, taking into consideration the result of a new experiment by experts.

However, to the dismay of the supporters, the prosecutors instantly appealed the ruling, and the retrial petition was being reviewed by the Osaka High Court.

Osaka High Court today ruled that according to additional experiments and statements by experts, the confessions by peritioners can no longer be evaluated as reliable. It also ordered release of petitioners from prisons.

The criminal procedure code in Japan writes that the prosecutors can still appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Man acquitted in Osaka After Retrial: Victim’s Recantation

From the Japan Times:

Man Acquitted After Serving 3 1/2 Years in Prison for Rape; Victim Gave False Evidence

Oct 17, 2015

OSAKA – An Osaka court on Friday acquitted a 72-year-old man of rape and indecent assault in a retrial after serving 3½ years of a 12-year prison term.

Osaka District Court presiding judge Minamoto Ashitaka said he was “sorry as a judge” that the man’s “freedom was taken away for an extensive period of time for a crime (he) did not commit, and inflicted unimaginable suffering” on him.

The acquittal was finalized the same day as prosecutors gave up their right to appeal. Continue reading

Masaru Okunishi, Death Row Inmate seeking Retrial Dies at 89

A belated post on Nabari Case

From the Japan Times:
Death row inmate seeking retrial over 1961 wine-poisoning murders dies at 89
October 4, 2015 by Kyodo

An 89-year-old death row inmate who was seeking a retrial for his 1961 conviction over the infamous wine poisoning murders in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, died in a Tokyo prison Sunday, his lawyers said.

Masaru Okunishi, who was arrested in 1961 on suspicion of murder and attempted murder, initially admitting to lacing wine with an agricultural chemical that killed five women, including his wife, but retracted his confession before being indicted. Continue reading

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