Calls are growing for a retrial of a Nepalese man serving a life sentence for a 1997 murder in Tokyo in the wake of a fresh DNA test.
Govinda Prasad Mainali, 44, was convicted of killing a 39-year-old woman after paying her for sex and stealing around ¥40,000 in cash. But the new DNA test showed that the semen found inside the victim’s body was not Mainali’s. Instead, it matches the DNA found in a piece of body hair collected at the apartment where the woman was murdered.
Mainali maintained his innocence throughout the trial but was found guilty on the basis that it seemed unlikely that a third person had been in the unoccupied apartment with the victim.
But the new DNA test appears to indicate the existence of another man, prompting Katsuhiko Tsukuda, a defense lawyer for Mainali, to argue that the “basis for the conviction has collapsed.”
Akira Kitani, a professor at the School of Law of Hosei University, agreed.
“The new finding could counter the court decision that denied the existence of a third person at the crime scene,” he said.
“Now that a suspicion about the ruling has arisen, a retrial should be started,” Kitani, a former judge, said.
A group of people supporting Mainali issued a statement after the reports came out about the new DNA analysis, saying he “should be released immediately” based on the principle of reasonable doubt.
After arriving in Japan in 1994, Mainali worked at an Indian restaurant in the city of Chiba and lived in an apartment near the crime scene at the time of the murder.
Chronology of events related to case
March 8, 1997 — Woman, 39, killed at Tokyo apartment.
March 19 — Victim’s body found there.
March 23 — Mainali arrested for overstaying visa.
May 20 — Mainali rearrested for murder, robbery of woman.
April 14, 2000 — Tokyo District Court acquits Mainali.
May 8 — Mainali detained again for appeal trial.
Dec. 22 — Tokyo High Court gives Mainali life sentence.
Oct. 20, 2003 — Supreme Court finalizes life sentence.
March 24, 2005 — Mainali files appeal for retrial with high court.
He was suspected partly because he had once possessed a key to the apartment, but he argued he had returned it to the superintendent before the victim’s death. The defense counsel also said it was impossible for him to have reached the apartment from his workplace by the time the crime was committed late in the evening of March 8, 1997, judging from the commuter train schedule.
While the Tokyo District Court initially acquitted him in April 2000, determining guilt was not sufficiently proved, the Tokyo High Court found him guilty eight months later, and the ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Among his supporters, Mikiko Kyakuno said she cannot forget her first interview with Mainali in July 2000 at the Tokyo Detention House, when she was visiting foreign detainees as a volunteer.
“Immediately after sitting in front of me behind the glass screen, Mr. Mainali said, ‘I didn’t do it. Please help me,’ ” she said.
At that time, he was being detained for the appeal trial at the request of prosecutors, despite the initial acquittal and his defense lawyers’ argument that he should be freed.
Kyakuno eventually decided to take his side because she found the high court’s ruling unconvincing. “The high court said it examined the case comprehensively, but it seemed to ignore favorable evidence for him.”
Since then, she has regularly visited Mainali at the Yokohama Prison, while campaigning for his release and acquittal.
The supporters have also repeatedly invited Mainali’s family members to Japan so they can meet with him at the prison and join their campaign.
His wife, Radhika Devi Mainali, 41, attended a recent public gathering in Tokyo with Mainali’s brother, Indra Prasad Mainali, 53. She told some 150 participants she has lived “like a widow” during the past 14 years since her husband’s arrest, seeking an immediate reunion with him.
While prosecutors remain reluctant to reopen the case, the supporters expect a series of other recent acquittals resulting from retried murder cases, such as the high-profile Ashikaga and Fukawa cases, to push the high court into a retrial for Mainali.
In the Ashikaga case, a man was cleared last year of the 1990 murder of a girl in Tochigi Prefecture after serving 17 years of a life sentence after fresh DNA evidence pointed to his innocence, while the two men convicted in the 1967 Fukawa murder case in Ibaraki Prefecture were acquitted this year.
“The door to retrials has gradually opened, and we hope we can push it open further with Mr. Mainali’s case,” Kyakuno said.
The repeated false accusations “should be blamed not only on the investigative authorities but also on the courts,” Takao Sugiyama, one of the former defendants in the Fukawa case, who were detained for 29 years, said at the public meeting to seek Mainali’s acquittal.
The Mainali case is one of several, including the Fukawa case, in which the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has supported a retrial because it strongly suspects the defendants were falsely convicted.
Hosei University’s Kitani suggested it is undeniable that judges tend to put more trust in investigative authorities than the defense. “But it will improve lower courts’ rulings if the Supreme Court rigidly rejects their irresponsible judgments, because such a stance by the top court will bring about feeling of tension.”
Kitani presided over a Tokyo High Court panel that once rejected prosecutors’ request to detain Mainali after his acquittal at the district court. But another panel made a contrary judgment later, which was then finalized.
The murder in Mainali’s case has drawn public attention, particularly because the victim was a graduate of a prestigious college and employee of a powerful company, Tokyo Electric Power Co., who engaged in prostitution.