Statement Regarding the Decision to Open a Retrial of the Higashi-Sumiyoshi Case
Today, on October 23, 2015, the Osaka High Court decided to uphold the decision rendered by the Osaka District Court to open a retrial of the case known as the Higashi-Sumiyoshi (Arson-Murder) Case (the “Case”), and also to turn down the immediate appeal made by the public prosecutors and to suspend the execution of the sentences of both of the petitioners.
An outline of the Case is as follows:
A fire broke out in a house in Higashi-Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka City on July 22, 1995, and an 11-year-old girl who lived in the house died in the fire. The mother of the child and her common-law husband were arrested and indicted as suspects for having committed arson-murder due to the fact that they had taken out life insurance coverage 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 their appeals in November and December 2006.
In response, the mother of the child and her common-law husband (the “Petitioners”) who had both been found guilty and sentenced launched an appeal in which they asserted that the fire in the present Case had occurred not because of arson but due to an accident. They each respectively filed petitions for retrial in July and August of 2009 requesting a review of their trial proceedings.
The Osaka District Court decided to open the retrial on the grounds that there were doubts as to the credibility of the Petitioners’ confessions which had been used as the direct evidence of the alleged arson, having taken into account the results of the reproducibility test which had been newly conducted after the retrial request had been made. Further, the Court found that, other than the confessions, the physical evidence was not sufficient to prove the Petitioners’ guilt. The public prosecutors, however, made an immediate appeal against such decision. The JFBA has been supporting the retrial appeal for the Case since July 2012.
It is the JFBA’s position that today’s ruling rendered by the Osaka High Court was a correct judgment with reference to the contents of the evidence submitted in the immediate appeal proceedings, and specifically pointed out the possibility that the fire had occurred as the result of an accident. In addition, such ruling not only raised doubts as to the credibility of the confessions but pointed out that the problematic manner of the process of extracting such confessions may have influenced the judgment which was made based on the voluntariness of the confessions. Though far too much time has been allowed to pass as it has taken more than three years since the prosecutors’ immediate appeal, we highly value today’s ruling as bringing about a final realization of justice.
On the other hand, even though it had become evident that the Petitioners’ confessions were lacking in credibility, as seen by the results of the reproducibility test conducted at the proceedings of the immediate appeal, the public prosecutors still persisted in finding the guilt of the Petitioners by newly producing evidence to support their contentions. Furthermore, since the new facts were revealed by the evidence disclosed at the proceedings of the immediate appeal, it cannot be denied that it took far more time than necessary for the truth to finally be revealed in the Case due to the public prosecutors’ delay in disclosing the evidence. Such attitude and behavior on the part of the public prosecutors was truly regrettable and reprehensible.
The JFBA will continue to provide its support until the Petitioners win their acquittal at the retrial, and will continue to do its utmost to tackle the need for systemic reform to prevent such miscarriages of justice, namely, institutionalizing transparent interrogations throughout the entire process of interrogations in all cases, realizing the prompt disclosure of all evidence in its entirety, improving the systems for disclosure of evidence at retrials, and drastically improving the detention system in Japan.
October 23, 2015
Japan Federation of Bar Associations