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Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012

Prosecutors now say Nepalese is innocent but decline to offer apology in one-day court session

Mainali retrial: State drops its case


By JUN HONGO and SETSUKO KAMIYA
Staff writers

The Tokyo High Court held a one-day retrial Monday of Govinda Prasad Mainali, whose acquittal was sought by prosecutors in a reversal of their long-held position, because new evidence indicated another man committed the March 1997 murder of a Tokyo woman for which the Nepalese had been convicted.

The high court will hand down a ruling on Nov. 7 that is expected to exonerate Mainali of the robbery-murder for which he was initially acquitted — then sentenced to life for — after he served more than 15 years in prison before his abrupt release and deportation last June.

At his retrial in absentia, the prosecutors — which for over a decade claimed Mainali was guilty of killing the 39-year-old woman in March 1997 in a vacant apartment near where he lived in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward — admitted their accusations were wrongful.

"We are stating that the accused is innocent," the prosecution said, adding that new evidence including DNA samples of tissue found under the victim's fingernails, hair strands on the victim and at the crime scene, and semen found in and on the victim, matched that of another man.

"It can't be denied that someone other than the accused committed the crime," the prosecution said.

The prosecutors, however, did not offer an apology to Mainali in court or own up to making a mistake, saying simply that evidentiary circumstances "have changed" since when they were originally accusing him of being the killer and focusing only on evidence linking him to the scene and the victim, an acquaintance who engaged in prostitution while employed by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Mainali's lawyers told the high court that the situation highlights the properness of the April 2000 acquittal by the Tokyo District Court, which gave the defendant the benefit of the doubt, even with the initial circumstantial evidence.

At the same time, they also criticized prosecutors for not revealing all of the evidence in their possession — namely the trace evidence of the other man.

"Prosecutors may say thattechnology to perform a thorough DNA test was not available back then, but we believe if they had shown us more evidence, there could have been ways" to show that another person was involved in the murder.

The high court agreed to open the retrial in June after new DNA testing of evidence found at the murder scene in 1997 strongly suggested Mainali did not kill the victim.

Following the closing of the retrial Monday, Mainali was quoted by his lawyers as saying he had to miss a substantial portion of his life despite being innocent. "I hope the ruling will formally admit that the guilty verdict 12 years ago that sentenced me to life imprisonment was wrong," he said.

His lawyers expressed relief after the retrial closed that their long legal battle is finally near an end. But they also criticized prosecutors for pursuing an appeal in a bid to get a conviction after Mainali's initial acquittal.

"I sincerely hope that serious discussions about barring prosecutors from appealing an acquittal will start, because this case indicates that is a problem," said Shozaburo Ishida, one of Mainali's defense lawyers.

Mainali's legal saga began on March 19, 1997, when the woman's corpse was found in the vacant apartment. She had been a career-track Tepco employee who secretly engaged in prostitution at night, and was believed slain by one of her clients.

On May 20, 1997, police arrested Mainali after witnesses claimed he was with the victim on the day of the murder. He had arrived in Japan in 1994 and was working on an expired visa at an Indian restaurant in Chiba Prefecture at the time. He was living near the apartment where the victim was killed, and a used condom containing Mainali's semen, which later was revealed to predate the day of the murder, was also found at the scene of the crime.

In the court proceedings that followed, the Nepalese acknowledged paying the victim for sex multiple times but continued to deny any involvement in the killing. Statements by the prosecutors and lawyers also caused a tabloid frenzy since it shed light on the murdered Tepco employee, who at times would randomly approach men on the streets and sell sex for a few thousand yen.



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