Retrial granted over child’s death

Defense team's simulation of fatal fire deemed sufficient cause

Kyodo

The Osaka District Court granted a retrial Wednesday for the mother of an 11-year-old girl and the woman’s common-law husband who were sentenced to life for the child’s murder in Osaka in 1995.

Questioning the credibility of the couple’s confessions during the investigation, presiding Judge Kazuo Mizushima granted the retrial on the grounds that their statements were “unnatural” and “unreasonable from a scientific standpoint” when considering the results of an experiment by the defense counsel to simulate the fire.

Keiko Aoki, 48, and her common-law husband, Tatsuhiro Boku, 46, pleaded not guilty in court, though at one point they had admitted the allegations when grilled by police and prosecutors.

The two filed a plea for a retrial in 2009 after their life sentences were finalized in 2006 by the Supreme Court.

Prosecutors plan to lodge an objection to the district court’s decision. They have alleged that the couple murdered the girl to collect ¥15 million in life insurance money to pay back debts and buy a new house.

The Supreme Court had ruled as credible Boku’s confession that he set the house on fire in July 1995, resulting in the death of Aoki’s daughter, Megumi.

But their lawyers later staged an experiment to stimulate the fire and argued the results showed Boku would have suffered burns had he set the fire.

The defense claimed the fire was accidental, resulting from gasoline leaking from a car parked in the garage.

Judge Mizushima said in Wednesday’s decision that the possibility of the fire igniting spontaneously couldn’t be ruled out.

It is relatively rare for retrials to be granted given the stringent requirement for new evidence to be sufficient either to prove innocence or reduce the sentence.

Legal experts said the court’s focus on evidence from a simulation instead of on confessions reflects the recent judicial trend to give weight to physical evidence and is likely to have impact similar cases.