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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

High court OKs Sugaya retrial

Challenge to wrongful conviction not allowed


Staff writer

The Tokyo High Court said Tuesday a retrial will be held for Toshikazu Sugaya, who was released from prison earlier this month after new DNA evidence contradicted initial tests that led to his conviction in the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Tochigi Prefecture.

The date has yet to be set for the retrial to be held at the Utsunomiya District Court, which handed down a life sentence to the kindergarten bus driver in 1993.

But Sugaya, 62, will probably be acquitted by the end of this year.

Once the case opens, prosecutors are expected to seek Sugaya's acquittal, effectively clearing him of guilt.

But Sugaya and his lawyers expressed mixed emotions at a news conference in Tokyo. The retrial will surely clear Sugaya's name, but it will also mean the court will not hear evidence they believe can reveal why he was wrongfully convicted.

The counsel has repeatedly asked the high court for a session to question the experts who performed the new DNA tests before the retrial is decided, but the high court turned down all requests.

The lawyers criticized the court for not reviewing the decisions that led to the conviction of an apparently innocent man.

"The courts have wrongfully sentenced me to life in prison, and I'm not satisfied if they won't say anything about it," Sugaya said. "I really would like to receive an apology from all the judges, from the first case to this high court."

Events related to Sugaya murder conviction, release

Kyodo News

May 13, 1990 — Mami Matsuda, 4, is found slain on the banks of the Watarase River in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, after vanishing from a pachinko parlor parking lot the previous day.

December 1991 — Toshikazu Sugaya is arrested on suspicion of murder based on DNA test results.

February 1992 — Sugaya pleads guilty at the start of his Utsunomiya District Court trial.

December 1992 — He reverses his plea during the trial, owns up to the charges again, then denies them again.

July 1993 — The court sentences Sugaya to life.

May 1996 — The Tokyo High Court dismisses his appeal.

October 1997 — Sugaya's counsel submits evidence to the Supreme Court claiming his DNA and that found on the victim may not match.

July 2000 — The Supreme Court recognizes the credibility of DNA test results used in the high court's decision, finalizing Sugaya's life sentence.

December 2002 — Sugaya petitions for a retrial at the Utsunomiya District Court, and his counsel presents an expert opinion on the DNA data.

February 2008 — The court dismisses the retrial plea. His counsel appeals the decision immediately.

December 2008 — The Tokyo High Court orders a new DNA test conducted on Sugaya.

May 8 — The high court tells prosecutors and the defense about the new DNA test, the results of which fail to prove a match.

June 4 — Sugaya is released from prison and prosecutors agree to a retrial.

June 10 — The Supreme Public Prosecutor's Office apologizes to Sugaya.

June 17 — The Tochigi Prefectural Police chief directly apologizes to him.

June 23 — The Tokyo High Court decides on retrial.

On June 17, the chief of the Tochigi Prefectural Police apologized to Sugaya face to face for the wrongful arrest, which he accepted. The Supreme Prosecutor's Office also expressed regrets for his indictment.

Sugaya, who spent 17 years in prison, was arrested on suspicion of murdering Mami Matsuda in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, based on DNA test results in December 1991.

He was released June 4 after new tests showed his DNA did not match traces found on the 4-year-old victim's clothes, contradicting the initial test results that led to his conviction.

He once confessed to kidnapping and killing the girl but later retracted his admission, saying he was forced to confess during the Tochigi police interrogation.

The Utsunomiya District Court in 1993 sentenced Sugaya to life, as sought by prosecutors. The Tokyo High Court dismissed his appeal in 1996 and the Supreme Court did likewise in 2000.

Sugaya's lawyers had been asking for a retrial, claiming the DNA test that led to his conviction had many errors, including contaminated samples.

Last December, the Tokyo High Court ordered a new DNA test be conducted on Sugaya.

On May 8, the court notified prosecutors and Sugaya's lawyers that the tests performed by two different experts both indicated he was most likely not the killer.

Prosecutors have already submitted to the Tokyo High Court their opinion acknowledging the fresh DNA test undermined the credibility of the earlier results that led to Sugaya's conviction.



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