Osaka court clears inmate on death row

Retrial faults evidence in double-killing of relatives, arson

Kyodo

The Osaka District Court on Thursday acquitted a 54-year-old man who had been sentenced to death for allegedly killing his daughter-in-law and her son and setting fire to their apartment in Osaka in 2002.

The ruling came after the Supreme Court repealed lower court verdicts against Takemitsu Mori, a prison officer now on leave, and ordered the district court in April 2010 to retry his case because of the possibility factual errors played a role in previous rulings.

Mori was arrested in November 2002, seven months after his daughter-in-law, Mayumi, 28, and her 1-year-old son, Toma, were found dead in their apartment in the city of Osaka on April 14. He was also accused of setting fire to the apartment, which was gutted.

Mori consistently pleaded not guilty, but the Osaka District Court gave him a life sentence in 2005. On appeal, the Osaka High Court the following year sentenced him to hang.

In Thursday’s decision, the presiding judge, Kazuo Mizushima, effectively said there was not enough proof to convict Mori.

“The court cannot recognize that the defendant entered into the apartment unit on the day of the crime,” Mizushima said.

“Whether the defendant went to the apartment is also questionable,” he said.

No motive was announced at Thursday’s ruling.

The point of contention was whether the circumstantial evidence the prosecutors presented would be accepted by the court.

Police collected 72 cigarette butts from a staircase at the apartment and found that the saliva on one of them matched Mori’s DNA type.

The focus is whether such circumstantial evidence is sufficient to find him guilty.

In its 2010 decision, the Supreme Court said, “It is extremely difficult to find the defendant guilty based solely on the indirect evidence presented in the lower court rulings . . . It would be a great injustice if we do not reverse” the rulings.