KATMANDU – Govinda Prasad Mainali wept with joy Wednesday after the Tokyo High Court officially exonerated him of the 1997 murder of a Tokyo woman for which he spent 15 years of a life sentence in a Yokohama prison.
“I felt tears of joy swelling in my eyes. I am extremely happy,” Mainali told reporters from the balcony of his Katmandu residence shortly after being informed of the verdict by his supporters in Japan.
“Though I still don’t have the details of the verdict, I am happy and I am sharing this happiness with my family members,” he said. Dozens of relatives were gathered at Mainali’s residence to celebrate his exoneration with him.
Mainali, 46, who was deported back to Nepal in June after 18 years in Japan — 15 of them in a Yokohama jail — had a “tika” (vermilion powder) dot on his forehead as a victory celebration, in keeping with Hindu tradition. He also flashed a victory sign at journalists.
Timeline of Mainali’s fall and rise
Feb. 28, 1994 — Mainali arrives in Japan.
March 19, 1997 — Body of a female Tokyo Electric Power Co. employee is found in a Tokyo apartment.
March 23 — Mainali is arrested for overstaying his visa.
May 20 — Mainali is charged in the woman’s robbery-murder.
Oct. 14 — Mainali pleads not guilty at the Tokyo District Court.
April 14, 2000 — Mainali is acquitted and detained at immigration facility.
Dec. 22 — In reversal, Tokyo High Court hands down life sentence.
Oct. 20, 2003 — Supreme Court turns down Mainali’s appeal. His sentence is finalized the next month.
March 24, 2005 — Mainali files an appeal for retrial with Tokyo High Court.
July 21, 2011 — DNA test detects another man’s semen in victim.
May 23, 2012 — Deliberations on Mainali’s retrial plea concluded.
June 7 — Tokyo High Court reopens Mainali’s case and stays his sentence. He is freed and deported eight days later.
July 31 — High court snubs prosecutors’ objection to retrial.
Oct. 10 — New DNA test shows sample taken from victim’s nails did not match Mainali’s.
Oct. 18 — Prosecutors tell the high court Mainali was innocent.
Oct. 29 — One-day retrial held.
Nov. 7 — High court acquits Mainali.
He was accompanied on the balcony by his wife, Radha, daughters Mithila, 20, Alisha, 19, two of his three sisters and his mother, Chandrakala, 80, all of them beaming with delight.
“This is the happiest day of our family,” Mainali’s wife said. “We waited for so long for this day, believing that it would surely come. And it has come. We never gave up.”
Many other relatives, who were squeezed together on the balcony, clapped as Mainali waved to reporters. One of them put a flower garland, or “mala,” around his neck and many showered him with flower petals later on as a blessing for an auspicious future.
At least two dozen journalists, mostly Japanese, waited along a narrow alley just in front of the 3½-floor house from as early as 6 a.m. to catch a glimpse of Mainali, who talked mostly in Japanese and sometimes in Nepali.
Neighbors watched the crowd from their rooftops. Lalmani Sapkota, 63, said Mainali should be compensated for what he endured in Japan: “It is good that prosecutors did the right thing in the end. But they must apologize and the Japanese government must compensate Mainali. He could have done a lot for his family in 15 years as a free man.”
Anita Khadgi, 35, another neighbor, said Mainali is fortunate: “Govinda is lucky that he was freed after 15 years (as many people are not that fortunate). I feel happy for him.”
Mainali, a former restaurant employee in the Tokyo metropolitan area, was arrested in 1997 for the murder of a 39-year-old female employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. who moonlighted as a prostitute. Though initially acquitted by the Tokyo District Court, he was later sentenced to life by the Tokyo High Court in 2000, a verdict that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003.
Mainali always protested his innocence and applied for a retrial in 2005. His retrial plea was accepted this year after a slew of evidence, held by prosecutors since the crime was committed but not introduced, indicated another, as yet unidentified, man had the final contact with the victim — as DNA tests proved.
At Mainali’s Oct. 29 retrial, prosecutors finally declared him innocent, paving the way for Wednesday’s exoneration.