Kyodo: 2 men acquitted in retrial after serving nearly 30 years in prison


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Hi Blog.  This is a bit of a tangent, but what affects citizens will also affect non-citizens as well (especially so, actually), so here goes:

The Mainichi reported yesterday that two men who were wrongfully committed of a crime were finally released.  The problem is that it was a 44-year ordeal for them, thirty years of it spent in prison.  And they are not the only examples of this lack of due process.  As the article says, “The case has become the seventh in postwar Japan involving the acquittal in a retrial of defendants previously sentenced to death or life imprisonment.”

I’ve said before (after experiencing now six civil court cases that have all been riddled with absolute illogic) that the Japanese judiciary is pretty fucked up.  So this is an example of how fucked up the Japanese criminal justice system is.  This deserves to be known about. So know about it.  (You can also read about it in my novel IN APPROPRIATE.)

NB:  Before all you relativists start looking for examples of wrongful convictions in other countries that were later overturned, don’t even bother.  For a) it doesn’t justify it happening here, and b) How much of this rigmarole and unaccountability will happen in other healthy judiciaries?  Thirty years is a sizeable chunk of a person’s life lost!

Is the Japanese justice system more concerned about looking like it never makes mistakes than about rectifying past ones and avoiding future ones?  Arudou Debito


2 men acquitted in retrial after serving nearly 30 years in prison
Mainichi Daily News, May 24, 2011, Courtesy of CP

TSUCHIURA (Kyodo) — A district court in a retrial Tuesday acquitted two men convicted in a 1967 murder-robbery case who each served nearly 30 years in prison.

The Tsuchiura branch of the Mito District Court delivered a not guilty verdict for Shoji Sakurai and Takao Sugiyama, both 64.

They had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1970 for the August 1967 robbery and murder of Shoten Tamamura, a 62-year-old carpenter, and were freed on parole in 1996.

The case was dubbed the Fukawa murder case, after the crime site in the town of Tone, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Presiding Judge Daisuke Kanda said in the decision that there was no objective evidence to link the defendants to the crime, noting that hairs and fingerprints detected at the crime scene did not match those of the defendants.

The judge also said witness accounts placing the two men at the victim’s home lacked credibility.

The two were arrested in October 1967, indicted in December that year and sentenced to imprisonment for life in October 1970 as suspects in the Fukawa murder case.

The case has become the seventh in postwar Japan involving the acquittal in a retrial of defendants previously sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

Sugiyama, who earlier in the day spoke to reporters at his home in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, said he was unhappy with a mere not-guilty decision and hoped the court would look into prosecutors’ effort to conceal evidence that may have helped acquit the defendants.

Sakurai said a not-guilty decision was natural.

The three-judge panel at the court’s Tsuchiura branch held six rounds of hearings in the two men’s retrial starting in July 2010, when the two pleaded innocent.

In the hearings, the defense counsel played a tape recording of investigators interrogating Sakurai and argued that the tape was found to have been edited. The defense contended that investigators apparently coerced Sakurai into confessing.

A 78-year-old woman, who saw a man on the day of the crime at the crime scene, testified in a retrial hearing that the man was not Sugiyama.

During the original trial, the two pleaded innocent to the charges, arguing that police investigators had forced them to confess.

But the district court’s Tsuchiura branch, citing their confessions and witnesses’ accounts, found the two men guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment in October 1970 — a decision upheld by the Tokyo High Court in 1973 and later by the Supreme Court in 1978.

They were released on parole in November 1996.

The two first filed for a retrial in 1983 when serving in prison but were rejected. They again filed for a retrial in 2001 after being freed.

In September 2005, the district court’s Tsuchiura branch accepted the two men’s second petition and decided to launch a retrial — a decision upheld by the Tokyo High Court in July 2008 and then by the top court in December 2009.

In the retrial, prosecutors again sought life imprisonment for the pair, arguing that the defendants had confessed voluntarily and their depositions were credible, urging the court to find them guilty.

The prosecutors called for conducting a DNA test on four items of evidence including underwear found wrapped around the victim’s neck. But the court turned down the prosecutors’ request.

The court was initially scheduled to give its decision on March 16.

But the court put off the date to Tuesday in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and parts of the Kanto region and crippled railways and other mass transit in the region.

One of the two, Sakurai, worked as a volunteer at shelters in the quake-hit city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, after the March disaster.

Toshikazu Sugaya, also 64, who spent 17 years in prison after being sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly killing a kindergartener in 1960 and was acquitted in a retrial in 2009, was among the audience at the courtroom Tuesday.

Sugaya told reporters he would work with Sugiyama and Sakurai to wipe out unjust convictions.

(Mainichi Japan) May 24, 2011


16 comments on “Kyodo: 2 men acquitted in retrial after serving nearly 30 years in prison

  • And we all know that the society will not treat him as an innocent man. Getting arrested is good enough to get you tainted so that everyone will shun you (the “no smoke will rise where there is no fire” logic), making it impossible to live the life like before.

  • Man, 30 years is ten years longer than I have lived on this earth. Do you know if they have any intentions to take action against the prosecutors?

  • But if the original prosecutors apologise and somebody completely unrelated to the case resigns, then everything’s ok, right?

  • “Is the Japanese justice system more concerned about looking like it never makes mistakes than about rectifying past ones and avoiding future ones?”

    Quite simply, yes. Other countries make mistakes, Japan is not like other countries and therefore doesn’t make mistakes.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Anyone up for translating that article in Rock’s link? I’ll volunteer if nobody else wants to. The Twitter comments that follow it are dispiriting — nobody seems to notice the fundamental incongruousness of discussing members of a criminal organization and people who happen to have different nationalities in the same breath. And then there are the other commenters who support the idea of certain people not having human rights. Others claim that foreign embassies should be the ones to guarantee the rights of immigrants. They miss the fundamental meaning of ‘human’ rights: rights are inherent aren’t handed down by the government! The government can restrict certain people’s rights, but the default state is not ‘zero rights’.

    — Please volunteer, thanks! I can create a separate blog entry for it when you’re ready.

  • JIb Halyard says:

    Bogus confessions seem to play a central role in the Japanese “justice” system. I think it’s pretty obvious what anyone arrested by the police in this country should do, whether foreign or Japanese: DO NOT SAY ANYTHING, DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING. Under any circumstances whatsoever.

  • Lots of good things in Japan but this unfortunately is one of the very very bad things that contiues to be ignored. Hopefully these two individuals don`t accept a bow and a gomen nasai. They probably won`t get any public support either. Sad.

  • @JIb,

    I think keeping your mouth shut and hands empty when asked to sign is just about anywhere. You can watch the U.S. COP shows and hear the deputy say “if you cooperate with us..we go easy on you.. or tell me this or that” and soon as the guy fesses up, its “turn around, your under arrest” The more experienced “criminals” always say”I have nothing to say” and the Sheriff will get all mad and “he aint cooperating” Its not he isnt cooperating, he is excercising his/her right. Its very tricky business, but I agree, keep your mouth shut or latter it can burn you.

  • My 75% guaranteed to be 90% accurate slap-dash translation of the big news. Everyone, please point out my errors, there are many I suspect.


    Stunning revelation from former prosecutor on the real situation of initial training, “We were taught that yakuza and foreigners have no rights” ,

    The chief prosecutor in the Saga City Agricultural Co-op case, infamous for use of false confessions, spoke at a symposium held in Tokyo on May 23, 2011. He gave a stunningly candid account of the reality of training for new employees. He disclosed that in his past experience, “We were taught that yakuza and foreigners have no rights.” and “Prosecutors are instructed to make up a confession on their own and then make the suspect sign it.” Further, he gave a chilling account of how under this warped training system, “While being trained in this way, I came to sort of agree that these kinds of things were only natural.”

    The person bringing up accusations against his old training ground is former prosecutor Hiroshi Ishikawa. Ishiakwa was involved as the chief prosecutor in the Saga City Agricultre Co-op case that arose in 2000. In that case, during police questioning of the former union leader, a forced confession was obtained as police screamed, “We’ll fucking beat you to death, you bastard!” The union leader had been indicted on suspicion of breach of trust, but was found not guilty based on refusal to accept the confession was voluntary. As a result, Ishikawa received a harsh reprimand and resigned his post as public prosecutor.

    Ishikawa spoke on that day as a panelist at a symposium on the theme “Prosecution, Public Opinion, and False Confessions” held at the Graduate School of Communications at Meiji University. At first, he gave shocking testimony that, “I admit that public prosecutors, having committed errors unsuited to their position, must take the position of offering profuse apologies.” while also noting that, “I want to tell the whole truth, so we can know how many threat-spewing public prosecutors were created.”

    Ishikawa was first appointed to the Yokohama District Public Prosecutor’s Office in 1993. In his first year there, he claims his superiors taught him that, ‘Yakuza and foreigners have no rights’ “That superior said on that point, ‘Foreigners don’t understand Japanese, so if you speak Japanese, you can heap as much verbal abuse as you want on them.’” Further, that superior said, “Once when we were interrogating a foreign suspect, we thrust an awl right in front of his eye and shouted abuses at him in Japanese. That’s how you get confessions!” as Ishikawa recounted his personal experiences.

    In his third year, a superior instructed him on methods to take confessions. That being, the prosecutor rattling off a made-up confession and then thrusting the confession form at the suspect and making them sign it. If the suspect refused to sign, what should be done? “If the suspect resists, tell him, ‘This is not your confession form, it’s just [you acknowledging] what I’m saying.’” , Ishikawa recalled of that period.

    “When being trained in such a manner, you come to sort of believe that these things are only natural. In my eighth year, even I verbally abused suspects, totally unsuitable for to my position. The case had a not guilty verdict, and it ended up with my resignation.”

    In 2005, Ishikawa quit the prosecutor’s office altogether and is now practicing as a lawyer. On the day before the symposium (May 22), he appeared on the Asahi Broadcast Network news program “The Scoop – Special” to give a much talked-about televised apology to the family of the former labor leader he had once verbally abused. The Meiji Univ. symposium was live-streamed on NicoNico Douga where he gave his reason for making these statements in a public forum as, “To atone for my terrible mistakes, I thought, ‘Isn’t it my duty to tell what I have seen and what I have heard?’”

    — Thanks very much for this.

  • smileyinc says:

    Kind of related topic – if it is talking about the questioning methods adopted by the police: This on the net news. A Uganda detained at the airport on suspicion of smuggling amphetamines is roughed up by the police – “punched and kicked” in the words of the article. But it looks like the offender is being taken to task for it.

    時事通信 5月26日(木)15時48分配信

  • Whatever happened to the case about the Ghana man who the Immigration people beat to death? Seems it got swept away.

    — This is the latest I know about, from last December:

    Japan Times Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010
    Prosecutors get case of deportee’s death


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