As I posted here, false confessions account for many, if not the majority of, wrongful convictions in Japan. Yet another case illustrates this: the Fukawa Case, in which two people were finally exonerated in 2011 for a 1967 robbery-murder.
The crime occured in August of 1967, in the town of Fukawa, Ibaraki Prefecture, about 40 miles outside of Tokyo. A carpenter was found dead in his home. His legs were tied with a towel and a shirt, a pair of underpants were stuffed in his mouth, and he was strangled. There were signs of struggle in the house, but it was unclear if anything was taken from the house, except for a white purse the victim supposedly used daily. 43 fingerprints were found but none of them connected to perpetrator(s). There was no physical evidence at the scene.
However, there were several eyewitness statements that two men (one tall man and another shorter man) were near the victim’s house on the evening that the victim was supposedly murdered. This statement lead the police to think there were two perpetrators.
Based on this information, the police investigated more than 180 men in the area, until they found the two men, Shoji Sakurai and Takao Sugiyama,who did not have an alibi on the date of the crime. In October of the same year, both of them were arrested on separate charges, and were interrogated.
Sakurai and Sugiyama were held in police jails (“Daiyo-Kangoku“), and interrogated for hours and days. After 5 days of interrogations, Sakurai confessed to the crime. Based on Sakurai’s confession, the police also forced Sugiyama to confess. They retracted their confession during the interrogation by the prosecutors, but the prosecutors sent them back to police jails, and after continuous interrogations that ensued, they finally gave in and confessed again.
The two contested their guilt at trial. The prosecutors had no direct evidence of their guilt. All they had were: their confessions made during interrogations by police and prosecutors (with the testimony of interrogators and the partial tape recordings of the interrogations which recorded only the part after they confessed to the crime), and testimonies of eyewitnesses who saw two men on the day of the crime.
There was no physical evidence, including the white purse which was never found. Their confessions during investigation changed repeatedly, Sakurai and Sugiyama’s confessions contradicted each other’s in important parts, they did not match the circumstances of the crime scene, and there was no information revealed in the confessions which unknown to investigators.
Nevertheless the trial court declared that their confessions made during investigation were reliable and sentenced them to life in 1970. The High Court as well as the Supreme Court denied the appeal. Their sentences were finalized in 1978. Continue reading