• Kyodo

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The Uwajima branch of the Matsuyama District Court on Friday acquitted a 51-year-old man who was kept in detention for more than a year after being wrongly accused of stealing 500,000 yen from the bank account of an acquaintance.

“There are little grounds (for the charges) in his confession and in depositions by people involved. Other evidence originally submitted by public prosecutors is also short of proving he had committed the crime,” Judge Akira Saito said in handing down the acquittal.

The judge did not criticize the man’s detention, however.

“It’s over at last. I want to start my life anew now,” the man, who asked not to be named, told the press.

During his detention, the Ehime Prefecture man was dismissed from his job and unable to see his dying father. He has not found a new job and goes to the public employment security office every other day to look for work.

Yutaka Hozumi, chief of the Ehime Prefectural Police’s criminal investigation bureau, said: “The ruling retrieved his honor. The prefectural force takes the case seriously and will reflect on it, and make the best use of the lesson in future investigations.”

The Matsuyama District Public Prosecutor’s Office later Friday renounced its right to appeal the case, thereby finalizing the acquittal.

The prosecutors’ office asked the court April 22 to acquit the man after having found another suspect in the case.

The Ehime man was arrested in February 1999 on suspicion of stealing a bankbook and a personal seal from a friend’s house in Uwajima and then withdrawing 500,000 yen from a farm co-op bank between October 1998 and January 1999.

According to the court, the man repeatedly denied any wrongdoing after voluntarily going to the prefectural police’s Uwajima Police Station.

Six hours later, however, he made a confession, it said. The man said he confessed after a police officer told him his relatives and colleagues would be investigated unless he confessed, it said.

He pleaded innocent at his trial. Prosecutors demanded a 30-month prison term for the man in December. He was released Feb. 21, four days before a ruling was due, after the new suspect was arrested in Kochi Prefecture, prompting prosecutors to seek the acquittal.

Prosecutors apologized to the Ehime man, saying, “We have caused enormous pain to you over a year of confinement and we deeply apologize.”

A 61-year-old suspect, who was arrested by Kochi Prefectural Police and later indicted on theft and other charges, confessed to the crime for which the acquitted man had been accused.