Don’t delay justice any longer

The Tokyo High Court on June 7 decided to retry a Nepalese man serving a life sentence for the 1997 robbery-murder of a 39-year-old woman in Tokyo on the strength of new evidence and he was released at the court’s order. But the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office immediately filed an objection. The prosecutors office should refrain from any further moves to delay the start of the retrial because the high court decision is based on DNA evidence that suggests that the perpetrator was not Mainali.

A female employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. was found dead in a vacant apartment in Maruyama-cho, Shibuya Ward, on March 19, 1997. Govinda Prasad Mainali, now 44, living nearby, was arrested four days later based on the fact that he had a key to the apartment and that semen left in a condom found in the apartment’ toilet matched his DNA. Mainali has consistently denied the charges.

The Tokyo District Court in April 2000 found him innocent. It said that it was not clear whether the condom was used at the time the crime was committed and that two strands of hair found on the victim came from a third party. But the Tokyo High Court in December the same year found him guilty primarily on the grounds that a notebook owned by the woman, who meticulously kept records on men she had sexual intercourse with, contained no reference to the condom in question.

Semen was also found inside the woman’s body. Its blood type matched that of another man, but the prosecution did not carry out a DNA test on the grounds that the amount was so small, and given the technological limits at the time, a DNA test was impossible.

In hearings to request a retrial for Mainali, his defense counsel called for a DNA test on the semen. A DNA test in July 2011 found that it did not match Mainali’s DNA, but that it did match the DNA of a strand of hair left on the carpet at the scene and a blood stain on the victim’s coat. These findings suggest that a different man was in the apartment when the crime was committed. The high court said that the findings constitute enough new evidence for a court to overturn the original guilty ruling against Mainali and render a not-guilty ruling.

Long after Mainali was found guilty, it was revealed that the prosecution had withheld critical evidence concerning the semen, the bloodstain and saliva found on the victim’s breast. A law should be enacted that requires the prosecution to reveal all its evidence to the court and the defense lawyers, and to punish all public prosecutors who do not comply. A system also should be devised to preserve evidence indefinitely for future testing if needed.