Statement on Decision to Retry Fukawa Incident
Today, the fourth criminal division of the Tokyo High Court rejected an immediate appeal filed by public prosecutors and upheld the decision of the Tsuchiura Branch of the Mito District Court of September 21, 2005 to open a retrial of the case involving Mr. Shoji Sakurai and Mr. Takao Sugiyama known as Fukawa Incident.
Mr. Sugiyama and Mr. Fukawa (the petitioners), who have filed the petition for their retrial, were arrested in August, 1967, as suspects of robbery and murder in Fukawa, Tonemachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, but on other charges. They made confessions during interrogations in daiyo-kangoku (substitute prison) but have been consistently professing their innocence since their first hearing. Their appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1978 and they were both sentenced to life imprisonment. However, this final conviction was based on extremely weak evidence that did nothing to connect the petitioners to the crime, but consisted solely of the ambiguous testimonies of eyewitnesses and the confessions of the petitioners, which contained nothing but obvious contradictions and inconsistencies.
The Tsuchiura Branch of the Mito District Court appropriately analyzed such weak evidence and approved the petition for commencement of a retrial in line with the decisions of Shiratori and Zaitagawa incidents. These decisions state that there can be a retrial when reasonable doubt has been cast on a final decision due to a comprehensive review of evidence, including all newly disclosed evidence along with the old evidence presented at trial, and the petitioner's confessions were made under circumstances that easily lead to false confessions and the important portions of the confessions are not credible because they contradict the objective circumstances.
Today's ruling supports a decision for retrial because the final decision in this case cannot be maintained after evaluating all the new and old evidence and serious doubts have arisen concerning the credibility of the eyewitnesses' testimonies and the petitioners' confessions.
Moreover, today's ruling implied a miscarriage of justice caused by illegal investigation mentioning that transferring the petitioners who had denied the charge back to police was very problematic because the petitioners were detained in a situation where false confessions are easily induced. The Supreme Court admitted the audio tapes which recorded the confessions as a material ground for the credibility and voluntary nature of the confessions. However, the audio tapes did not record the entire interrogation process, but only contained a portion of changeable oral testimony of the petitioners. Thus the audio tapes did not support the credibility of the confessions.
The JFBA welcomes today's ruling as an exceptionally legitimate decision.
The JFBA urges the prosecution to respect this decision and immediately proceed to open the retrial without filing a special appeal.
The JFBA has been supporting the petitioners since 1978 and will continue to support them until they are acquitted. The JFBA also makes every effort to abolish daiyo-kangoku where illegal interrogations have being conducted, to institutionalize the video recording of the entire process of interrogations, and to disclose all evidence in order to prevent miscarriages of justice.
Japan Federation of Bar Associations
July 14, 2008