YOKOHAMA – The Yokohama District Court on Monday cleared a 30-year-old man of murdering his girlfriend at her apartment in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, in December 1993.
Presiding Judge Hiroshi Yamura said that while the accused, Kei Sasaki, had a motive to kill and it was “probable” that he had committed the crime, there is also “reasonable doubt” over his guilt.
The 10-year-old case was reopened in 2001 after the same district court, in its ruling on a damages suit filed by parents of the deceased, 25-year-old Miho Iijima, determined that 30-year-old Sasaki stabbed the woman and set her apartment on fire.
Sasaki was arrested in February 2001 and the Yokohama District Public Prosecutor’s Office demanded a life term for murder and arson.
Prosecutors charged that Sasaki slashed the throat of Iijima, who was a jewelry store employee, and set her apartment on fire by spreading kerosene at the flat on Dec. 14, 1993.
According to the indictment, Iijima had died of heart failure due to her neck wound and from inhaling carbon monoxide from the fire.
Sasaki had pleaded not guilty, claiming that Iijima tried to force him to participate in a suicide pact. He argued that Iijima, after spreading kerosene in her flat and setting it alight, slashed her own neck with a kitchen knife.
In handing down the ruling, Judge Yamura questioned the credibility of Sasaki’s account, stating that it was also probable that he killed the woman and set the place afire. But the judge ruled that there is still room for doubt as to his guilt.
The court also cast doubt on the credibility of the prosecution’s version of events at Iijima’s apartment before her death.
In reopening the case, prosecutors commissioned medical experts to examine Iijima’s body organ samples preserved by authorities in a bid to re-enact the events that led to her death, maintaining that the stab wound to her neck was inflicted before the room was set afire.
They then claimed it was impossible for Iijima to have started the fire, given that she was in such a weakened state due to the loss of blood from her neck wound.
The judge stated that the experts’ analysis contradicts some points of the autopsy report, as well as testimony provided by those involved in examining the scene of the incident.
The court ruled that Sasaki had repeatedly beaten Iijima after they started living together at the apartment. On a number of occasions, he urged her to commit suicide with him, telling her she should die first, according to the ruling.
Iijima had told a friend that she could no longer put up with her partner’s violence and was planning to break up with him, the court said.
Given these circumstances, Iijima had little motive to commit suicide, while Sasaki had a motive to harm her and set the apartment on fire, the judge stated.
Yet the judge concluded that the evidence available in the case is insufficient in terms of determining what actually happened at the apartment.
Kazuhiro Suzuki, deputy head of the Yokohama District Public Prosecutor’s Office, voiced regret that the
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