Prosecutors said Friday they will seek an acquittal if a retrial is held for a 62-year-old man released Thursday after a fresh DNA test did not link him to the 1990 kidnap-murder of a 4-year-old girl.
With the extremely rare step, Toshikazu Sugaya, who had been sentenced to life for kidnapping and strangling Mami Matsuda in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, is now expected to be cleared in a retrial before year’s end, legal experts said.
The prosecutors are believed to have judged that they lack sufficient evidence to challenge the results of the recent DNA analysis, which undermined the credibility of earlier DNA tests that had led to Sugaya’s conviction.
Sugaya’s counsel will submit to the Tokyo High Court by next Friday an opinion on the fresh DNA test, which the prosecutors have already acknowledged as evidence signifying that Sugaya should be acquitted.
The Tokyo High Court has not yet decided whether to reopen the case, but if it does, a retrial at the Utsunomiya District Court is likely to end after two or three sessions at the most as the prosecutors will not seek a guilty verdict.
“I am very lighthearted today, as I was released yesterday,” Sugaya told a press conference held in the morning.
“My feelings and the sky are completely different from the time when I was in prison,” he said, adding that he could only sleep for an hour on his first night outside of prison in more than 17 years because he had drunk too much coffee.
He also said investigative authorities and the courts set him up as the culprit.
A key focus of the retrial will be whether the court allows Sugaya’s counsel to question the police officers and prosecutors who interrogated their client and led him to confess to the murder, and how the prosecutors will respond if the defense demands an apology.
In a past retrial in which prosecutors said a defendant was innocent of a rape in Toyama Prefecture, an acquittal was finalized six months after the decision to open the retrial, with four sessions held.
In 1993, the Utsunomiya District Court sentenced Sugaya to life in prison as sought by prosecutors, and the sentence was finalized in 2000.
The defense team filed with the district court for a retrial in December 2002 with new evidence regarding DNA analysis, leading to the Tokyo High Court’s decision last December to carry out fresh DNA tests.
The new DNA tests revealed that the dried bodily fluid found on the girl’s clothes was not Sugaya’s, prompting the prosecutors to free him in a rare move before a retrial starts.
The accuracy of DNA testing has greatly improved since it began to be used in criminal investigations in Japan in 1989.
On May 12, 1990, Matsuda was taken from the parking lot of a pachinko parlor in Ashikaga while her father was inside playing. The girl was found strangled in a nearby river the following day.
Sugaya, who was one of the customers playing pachinko there at the time, was arrested a year later on suspicion of kidnapping and killing the girl.