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After nearly three decades, 90-year-old Kagoshima woman wins retrial for murder conviction

Kyodo

The Kagoshima District Court on Wednesday ordered the retrial of a 90-year-old woman who served a 10-year prison term for the 1979 murder of her brother-in-law.

Ayako Haraguchi has consistently denied killing Kunio Nakamura, despite confessions by three of Haraguchi’s relatives who were also convicted in connection with the case.

Haraguchi was found guilty in 1980 by the district court, and fought through to the Supreme Court, which in 1981 shot down her appeal that was based on the confessions. She filed her first plea for a retrial in 1995 after being released from prison in 1990.

Her third attempt to reopen the case focused on the credibility of her relatives’ confessions, which were critical in the handing down of a guilty verdict.

While the relatives said the victim was strangled with a towel, Haraguchi’s defense counsel submitted a new forensic report based on autopsy photos claiming that the victim’s body showed no signs of suffocation.

The defense team also referred to expert testimony from a psychologist that cast doubt on another relative’s confession that she had witnessed Haraguchi proposing the murder to her relatives.

Prosecutors had claimed that signs of suffocation could have disappeared due to the body decomposing. They also dismissed the psychologist’s testimony as being inconsistent with other evidence and difficult to prove in court.

In 2002, the district court endorsed Haraguchi’s appeal to reopen the case due to “doubts about the credibility of confessions as interrogators are suspected of having forced or guided the statements.”

That decision, however, was turned down by the Miyazaki branch of the Fukuoka High Court in 2004. Her second plea for a retrial in 2010 was also eventually dismissed.

According to the ruling upheld by the top court in 1981, Haraguchi, conspiring with the three, strangled Nakamura with a towel and abandoned his body in a cattle stable beside his home in October 1979.

The three relatives were Nakamura’s two brothers and a nephew. The eldest brother was married to Haraguchi at the time.

The three were sentenced to up to eight years in prison in 1980 and the rulings were finalized without appeal.