Police blunders taint murder probe

The Toyama prefectural police in December 2012 arrested a 54-year-old assistant police inspector, Takeshi Kano, on suspicion of murdering an elderly couple who had been his friends for more than 30 years and of setting their residence afire in April 2010. He confessed to these heinous crimes. But in an unusual turn, the Toyama District Public Prosecutors Office on July 24 decided not to indict him due to lack of evidence.

The police must be criticized for their failure to follow the basic principle of collecting evidence before arresting a person. At the very least they must examine what went wrong and make public the results of their examination.

Saburo Fukuda, 79, a money lender, and his wife Nobuko, 75, were found dead after a fire broke out at their residence on the second floor of a building in Oizumi, Toyama City, on April 20, 2010. The Toyama prefectural police arrested Kano on Dec. 22, 2012, in connection with the murders and arson. He confessed that he strangled the couple with cords and started a fire after spreading kerosene in the residence. He also said that he started the fire to destroy evidence.

Earlier, on Oct. 31, 2011, Kano was arrested on suspicion of leaking information from an investigation of a stimulant drug case to an acquaintance. He was given a suspended sentence on this count on July 25 this year, and was released.

His actions after the murders and arson were strange. Eight days after the couple were murdered, he said in a Kyodo News interview that many people had resented Fukuda and described how the rooms in the couple’s residence were arranged. In mid-September 2010, he tried to commit suicide at home by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.

After about four months’ detention for mental observation from this past January, the prosecution decided that he had the mental capacity to be held criminally liable. But it decided not to indict him because his confession on how he killed the couple did not match the evidence found at the crime scene. He also made statements regarding his whereabouts that proved to be false and later said that he was not sure if he had committed the crimes.

A CD-R that supposedly contained Kano’s confession and was sent to the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun in June 2010 played an important part in the Toyama prefectural police’s investigation. But the prosecution found that the date when the text was fed into the CD-R and the type of software used for that operation did not match Kano’s statements. His personal computer also showed no evidence of being used to produce the CD-R.

The police seem to have committed errors at each crucial point of the investigation. The victims’ bereaved family on Aug. 2 took the case to a prosecution inquest committee, a citizens’ panel that will determine whether the prosecution acted correctly in deciding not to indict Kano. The police and the prosecution must closely examine their investigation records and if their decision to not indict Kano stands, then they must begin a new investigation.