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Statement on Acquittal in the Retrial of the Fukawa Case

Today, the Tsuchiura Branch of the Mito District Court acquitted Mr. Shoji Sakurai and Mr. Takao Sugiyama in their retrial of the case known as the Fukawa Case.


The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) set up a sub-committee on the Fukawa case within the JFBA Human Rights Protection Committee and has been providing its utmost support for Mr. Sakurai and Mr. Sugiyama since 1978, immediately after their sentences were finalized. The JFBA, once again, expresses its respect for both men who had been voicing their innocence for a long time until they won today’s acquittal, along with their families, supporters, and the defense team who had been actively supporting them.


Though a large amount of evidence remained at the crime scene in question, proving that there had evidently been a big fight and that the perpetrator(s) had ransacked the house, there was no objectively provable evidence, including hairs and fingerprints of the two men, linking them to the crime. However, they were convicted based merely on fragile oral evidence including false confessions induced by fraudulent and threatening interrogations conducted in substitute prisons, the so-called “Daiyo-kangoku,” and eyewitness testimony which was apparently changed at the instigation of the investigators.


In addition, it should be noted that the court acknowledged the voluntariness of their confessions which had been greatly affected by an audio tape recording of their confessions only during the final stage of their interrogations. This case has clearly indicated the dangers of partial audio/visual recording of interrogations. Furthermore, the evidence proving the innocence of the two men was concealed and most of this evidence in favor of the two was disclosed only after the filing of the second appeal for retrial.


Today’s ruling pointed out these problems and acquitted the two men. While it is completely natural and obvious that they deserved their acquittal, the JFBA still welcomes the ruling as justice has finally been realized.


The police, public prosecutors, and courts bear a great responsibility for this miscarriage of justice and should deeply regret their actions, which resulted in the prolonged detention of both men for more than 29 years, defaming them as criminals convicted of robbery and murder for more than 43 years, and inflicting indescribable suffering on them. The JFBA urges the public prosecutors to give up on filing any appeal against this acquittal and truly eliminate their defamation as being robbers and murderers as soon as possible. We will further strengthen our efforts in supporting retrials for victims of miscarriages of justice in order to put forward our best efforts to bring about their immediate release.


The JFBA also continues striving to realize structural reforms aimed at preventing miscarriages of justice from occurring, such as the abolition of Daiyo-kangoku where false confessions have been obtained through illegal interrogations, the introduction of visual recording of the entire process of interrogations, and the disclosure of all evidence. In addition, we urge the Diet and the Cabinet to establish a third party body to investigate and ascertain the causes which led to past miscarriages of justice and make recommendations to the Cabinet and the Diet concerning the operational improvement of all relevant systems and any necessary legislation in order to prevent future miscarriages of justice.


May 24, 2011
Kenji Utsunomiya
Japan Federation of Bar Associations


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