Statement on the Decision on Reopening of the Retrial of the Higashi-Sumiyoshi Case
On March 7, 2012, the 15th Criminal Division of the Osaka District Court decided to open a retrial of the case known as the “Higashi-Sumiyoshi (Arson-Murder) Case.”
An outline of the Higashi-Sumiyoshi Case is as follows:
An 11-year-old girl was killed in her own house in Higashi-Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka City, when a fire broke out in the house on July 22, 1995. The mother of the child and her common-law husband were arrested and indicted as suspects of having committed arson-murder due to their life insurance coverage taken out on the girl. They were both sentenced to life imprisonment for the charges of (i) arson of an inhabited building, (ii) murder, and (iii) attempted fraud, at the Osaka District Court in 1999, and the Supreme Court subsequently rejected appeals in November and December 2006. They respectively filed petitions for retrial in July and August in 2009.
In the Higashi-Sumiyoshi Case, the issue that has been seriously questioned is whether the confessions of the petitioners were voluntarily made and is credible, because only the confessions were considered as the direct evidence connecting the crimes committed and the petitioners.
The reasons for deciding to reopen the case were as follows:
It was pointed out that i) the confessions of the petitioners is unnatural and irrational from a scientific point of view in terms of the core portions of their confessions on the issue of “how they started the fire.” In addition, ii) the method of fire confessed in the statements did not match the objective circumstances of the time when the fire broke out. Further, iii) there are a number of unnatural and irrational points and unreasonable changes in the key elements of such confessions. Taking all of the above into consideration, the court said that the confessions does not have probative value enough to convince that there is no reasonable doubt that the petitioners had committed the crimes with which they had been charged and convicted.
Further, it was indicated in the decision that although it is not definitively proven that the fire in question in this case spontaneously ignited, the possibility of spontaneous ignition cannot be entirely ruled out. Together with the fact that there were doubts as to the credibility of the confessions of the petitioners, the court held that issue on the cause of the fire cast a doubt over the grounds for the guilty verdict.
We value the above decision in the sense that an iron rule of criminal trials, namely, “in dubio pro reo (when in doubt, for the accused)” applied to review of the fact finding process in the final and binding judgment.
As with a number of miscarriages of justice that have occurred, the same problems again arose in this case that objective facts was taken lightly, and that the investigators forced confessions and overweighed such confessions. Therefore, the JFBA once again urges the government to bring about the realization of audio/video recording of the entire process of interrogations.
In addition, in this case, the results of a reproducibility test, which was conducted taking into account the contents of the evidence which the prosecutors had disclosed after the request for retrial had been made, are an important foundation for judging the credibility of the confessions. However, it should be noted that there had been strong resistance from the prosecutors until they finally disclosed such evidence. In addition, considering the fact that there is still a large amount of undisclosed evidence in connection with this case, it is absolutely imperative and highly urgent to realize the disclosure of all evidence held by public prosecutors.
The JFBA requests that prosecutors do not file an immediate appeal against the decision of commencement of a retrial which would prevent its prompt commencement, and that they disclose all the undisclosed evidence concerning this case.
March 8, 2012
Japan Federation of Bar Associations