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Statement on the Court’s Decision to Commence a Retrial of the Matsubase Case

The Kumamoto District Court decided to commence a retrial of the case known as the “Matsubase case” today in response to the retrial petition. The JFBA profoundly welcomes this court’s decision.

The case involves the petitioner who was arrested and indicted for murdering a victim with a short, straight-bladed knife with the cutting edge set at an angle at the victim’s home in the then Kumamoto Prefecture town of Matsubase of Mashiki-Gun, now part of the city of Uki, at 1:30 a.m. on January 6, 1985. He was arrested and charged for allegedly wrapping the haft of the knife and the joint part of the blade in an old shirt and layered two pairs of cotton gloves when committing the murder.

Evidence of the murder implicating the petitioner is solely sustained by his confession.

He initially denied his involvement during a prolonged voluntary interrogation. However, when investigators told him that a result of a polygraph test was positive on January 18, he changed his testimony and confessed to the murder, and was arrested on January 20.

On the fifth day of trial at the Kumamoto District Court, he reversed his position and clearly denied the charges against him when being questioned, and consistently pleaded innocence afterward.

However, the district court found him guilty and sentenced him to 13 years in prison for undisputed violations of the Firearm and Sword Possession Control Law and violations of the Explosives Control Act for a case under public prosecution on December 22, 1986, relying on the voluntariness and credibility of his confession made during the investigation. Following the appeal to the High Court and the Supreme Court, his culpability was finalized on January 26, 1990.

In response to this, the petitioner filed a request for a retrial with the Kumamoto District Court on March 12, 2012, after he served his term in prison while continuously insisting on his innocence after his conviction. The JFBA has continued to provide its support since its decision to assist with the retrial request on August 18, 2011.

Defense counsel revealed the lack of the voluntariness and credibility of the petitioner’s confession by presenting new pieces of evidence, including: (1) evidence relating to the existence of a strip of the shirt that the petitioner had initially stated was wrapped around the knife used for the murder and was burned by him afterward; (2) a written expert opinion showing the victim’s wounds could not have been formed by the knife purportedly used as the murder weapon in the district court decision; (3) a written expert opinion showing the fatal injury in the neck the petitioner had initially stated was sustained by directly piercing the skin, was actually inflicted by stabbing through the sweater; and (4) evidence showing that the victim was stabbed in several parts of the neck after he fell over which contradicts the petitioner’s confession that the petitioner did not stab the victim after he fell over. Also, the court issued recommendations and other procedures for evidence disclosure to the prosecutors, receiving the defense team’s petition for an order to disclose evidence in the prosecution’s possession. The prosecutors accordingly disclosed its evidence on a voluntary basis. Some of the disclosed evidence included documents which indicated the bloodstain was found in a place significantly deviated from the route of intrusion which the petitioner stated and videotapes of an inspection of the murder site, and revealed that the petitioner confessed and acted as the interrogators guided him. This obviously shows that the investigating authorities concealed evidence advantageous to the petitioner.

In today’s court decision, recognizing that no other critical evidence besides the petitioner’s confession linked the crime with the petitioner’s responsibility, the court admitted new evidence that the defense team recently submitted. Below are the main points of its judgment:

(1) New evidence of the murder weapon raises doubt that the knife believed to be used in this case could have formed the victim’s wounds. (2) New evidence of the cloth wrapped around the knife raises doubt about the petitioner’s confession that he wrapped the cloth around the knife so no blood would adhere to it. (3) In view of the fact that no bloodstain was found in the knife as well as the above points, there is a reasonable doubt that the knife was used as a weapon in this case. The doubt as to the weapon makes the credibility of the petitioner’s confessions questionable. (4) In addition to the above points, parts of the petitioner’s confession obviously contradict objective facts or are highly likely to do so. (5) The petitioner’s confession did not include any secrets that only the true perpetrator knew. Thus, it is not appropriate to judge that he revealed such secrets. (6) These doubts evidently indicate that the petitioner’s confession alone is not credible enough to sustain the conviction of the final judgment. Because of the reasonable doubt developed in regard to the fact-finding of the ruling, a retrial should be started. 

The court should expeditiously prove the false charge and provide relief for the petitioner during his lifetime given the fact he will turn 83 years old this year.

The JFBA demands that the prosecutors immediately proceed with a retrial of this case without filing an appeal of the retrial petition.

The JFBA is also determined to dedicate its utmost efforts to realize institutional reform to prevent false convictions which includes video recording of all investigation processes and full disclosure of evidence in cases where a retrial is requested, as well as to continuously provide support to obtain the petitioner’s acquittal.

June 30, 2016
Kazuhiro Nakamoto
Japan Federation of Bar Associations

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