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Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
Put the onus on prosecutors
The Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court on Nov. 30 decided in favor of a retrial of a 46-year-old man who served out a seven-year prison term for murdering a 15-year-old junior high school girl in Fukui City in March 1986. No new, decisive evidence to cast doubt over the conviction ruling came out. But it is significant that the court reached the conclusion by carefully examining old evidence that was newly disclosed by the prosecution.
It must be noted that the new disclosure of the old evidence came only after the court made strong requests to the prosecution. The decision is likely to influence other trials dealing with retrial requests. In the 1986 case, no strong material evidence emerged. In September 1990, the Fukui District Court acquitted Mr. Shoji Maekawa, who was indicted. But in 1995, the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court found him guilty and in 1997, the Supreme Court finalized the ruling.
The police arrested him as late as March 1987. He denied his involvement throughout. The conviction was based on testimony by witnesses that they had seen him in clothes with blood stains and that they had heard him say that he had committed the crime.
In the trial in which his retrial was requested, the prosecution disclosed about 90 pieces of evidence, including investigators' records of testimony by the witnesses and the victim's autopsy photos.
By examining the records of testimony, the defense counsel for Mr. Maekawa pointed out that shortly after one witness changed his statement, other witnesses changed theirs along the same line. Among the materials it submitted was an expert's opinion in writing about blood stains allegedly seen in a car Mr. Maekawa allegedly got into.
The court decided that testimony that blood stains were seen in the car was questionable because there was no blood reaction in the car. It also sided with an expert's view that the victim's wounds could not have been caused by the two knives left at the crime scene. It also pointed out that the situation at the crime scene contradicts the 1995 ruling that the crime was committed by a person under the influence of glue sniffing. On the strength of these points, the court granted a retrial.
The prosecution has decided to appeal the court decision. But it should ask itself whether its decision to indict Mr. Maekawa was rational. A legal provision should be created to punish prosecutors who do not disclose all the evidence in criminal procedures.