It has been nearly five years since Manalili Villanueva Rosal was taken into custody on suspicion of murdering her lover in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture.
“I would never be able to take the life of someone I love with all my heart,” Rosal, 30, told the final session of her appeal hearing before the Tokyo High Court in June.
Presiding Judge Takeo Nakanishi is slated to rule on the case Wednesday.
Rosal was sentenced to eight years in prison by the Chiba District Court in September 2000 for the murder of Hideyuki Takahashi, 30, on the night of Nov. 9, 1997, at the apartment where they lived.
According to the court, Rosal stabbed Takahashi to death with a kitchen knife during an argument at around 10:30 p.m. She was about to leave for a nearby hospital after her husband called and told her their 4-year-old daughter’s asthma condition had worsened, the court said. The daughter had been living with the husband at that time.
Rosal, a Filipino, had been living apart from her Japanese husband because he often allegedly abused her.
Illegal probe but so what?
One of the issues the district court considered was that police had held Rosal and questioned her repeatedly — without a warrant — for about 10 days at various locations, including a police dormitory and a hotel room, until she finally “confessed.”
Rosal retracted the confession after her case was sent to prosecutors.
Judge Yasuro Tanaka of the district court acknowledged that the methods of the investigation “must be said to be illegal,” yet he still found Rosal guilty based on her initial confession, because it was “concrete and detailed.”
Although by law, evidence obtained illegally cannot be used in court, the district court judge said, “The illegality (of the Rosal investigation) was not serious enough to undermine the principles of the Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Law.”
“I believe Japanese people tend to place more weight on determining whether suspects actually did or did not commit a crime rather than on the legality of the investigation,” said a career-track judge, speaking off the record and declining to be named.
There have been times, however, when suspects were forced to make “concrete and detailed” false confessions.
In February 2000, an Ehime Prefecture man, shortly before his trial was to end, was acquitted of stealing a friend’s bank book and withdrawing money, after another man, arrested on separate charges, confessed to the crime.
The Ehime man claimed he had been forced into falsely confessing to committing the crime only a few hours after being taken to a police station for “voluntary questioning.” The details in the confession were sufficient to convince prosecutors to indict him.
Evidence points elsewhere
As well as the illegal investigation, witnesses’ testimony and the opinions of experts given during the district court trial cast doubt on whether Rosal committed the crime.
Having spent the night at her daughter’s hospital bedside, Rosal walked the short distance back to Takahashi’s flat the next morning, then returned to the hospital to get help, according to court testimony.
When medics arrived at the flat, they found Takahashi dead on his bed and covered in blood. He was in a defensive pose with a great deal of blood across the upper part of his body, according to the court.
His pillow and the wall by the bed were covered with blood, the court said, adding that no bloodstains were found anywhere else in the apartment, except for some small traces found on clothes Rosal was wearing.
Defense lawyers claim these details, which were admitted by the district court, suggest the victim was assaulted while asleep, which contradicts the confession attributed to Rosal in which she started to fight with the victim in the kitchen as she held a knife and eventually forced him to the bed.
Dr. Masahiko Ueno, providing expert testimony for the defense, also told the district court that Rosal would have been bathed in the victim’s blood had she killed him.
But the court dismissed this, saying, “It is only a guess of one possible situation.”
Defense lawyers also pointed out that the knife found in a kitchen drawer had no traces of Rosal’s fingerprints or blood on the handle, although the victim’s blood was all over the blade.
They argued that the killer was careful not to leave fingerprints, which flies in the face of the state’s assertion that Rosal simply grabbed the knife in a fit of anger.
The lower court ruled that there were no prints because of the shape and resin-coated nature of the knife handle.
During a high court session, one expert called by the defense also said that some of Takahashi’s wounds were not consistent with those inflicted by the kitchen knife, suggesting another weapon may have also been involved, a point not previously mentioned.
Experts were also divided on the time of death.
In the district court trial, two doctors claimed the victim could have been killed after 2:30 a.m. — when Rosal was at the hospital — while a doctor who conducted an autopsy estimated the time at between midnight and 3 a.m., but with a margin of error of a few hours.
Rosal’s husband, who told police that his wife had confessed to him at the hospital that she had killed her lover, was also initially a suspect. In court, he was reluctant to restate that the defendant had confessed to him.
He was not at the hospital between 4 and 5 a.m., although the district court found his alibi to be trustworthy.
The opinions of other experts on the time of death were also divided at the high court trial, although none of the experts summoned could clearly state that Takahashi was killed before 10:30 p.m., when Rosal left the apartment.
Local people are supporting Rosal and are optimistic that the upcoming ruling will be an acquittal.
One supporter, a Christian missionary who visits Rosal at the Tokyo Detention House, said her polite and modest behavior has convinced him of her innocence, unlike suspects who tend to be vocal in proclaiming their innocence.
However, even if she wins an acquittal, the road ahead is likely to be rough.
Acquittal isn’t the end
Prosecutors could appeal an acquittal to the Supreme Court, a process that usually takes several more years before a ruling is issued.
There is also concern that a higher court may require that Rosal, as a foreign criminal suspect, remain in detention even if she is acquitted.
In April 2000, the Tokyo High Court decided that a Nepalese man who was acquitted of murder by the Tokyo District Court should remain behind bars when prosecutors appealed, saying he would otherwise be deported.
In a subsequent appeals trial, he was convicted.
In May 2001, the Tokyo District Court also ruled that a Brazilian man acquitted of physically abusing his daughter and eventually causing her death should remain in jail on grounds that he could flee or destroy evidence.
Critics claim this treatment of foreigners — which differs from how Japanese are handled — is discriminatory.
Even if Rosal is freed next week, she cannot regain all that she lost in the past four years and 10 months. Her daughter, 4 at the time of the killing, is now 10 and in elementary school in western Japan. She lives with her grandmother on her father’s side and does not even know where her mother is.
“Even if I am declared innocent, I would not be able to see my daughter until I can walk tall,” Rosal said in a letter to a friend, written in fluent Japanese with kanji.
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