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The man sentenced to life for a high-profile 1990 child murder may be cleared in a retrial, now that a DNA sample taken from him did not match body fluid found on the victim’s clothing, contrary to findings at the time of his conviction.

The Tokyo High Court notified both the prosecution and defense that recent DNA tests showed a sample from Toshikazu Sugaya, who is serving a life term for the murder of the 4-year-old girl in Tochigi Prefecture, differed from the one used as evidence that helped convict him, his lawyers said.

This is the first time DNA tests were performed for a case where the convict is seeking retrial, the defense said.

“This is proof that he is innocent,” said defense attorney Hiroshi Sato at a press conference, stressing the initial DNA test results were wrong. “We really want the prosecution to follow the results. This is clear evidence.”

Sato said Sugaya broke down in tears Friday at the Chiba prison when he visited him to inform him of the test results.

“I am innocent, and I’m grateful that the testing was done again,” Sato quoted Sugaya as saying, and adding: “I am really touched. I want to get out of this prison and pay a visit to my parent’s grave.”

Both the prosecution and defense will submit written opinions on the results of the new tests to the court by June 12.

According to the defense, the DNA test was performed by the authority of the high court. Two experts, each recommended by both sides, performed the tests using different methods. Both tests showed there was no match between Sugaya’s DNA and the sample found on the girl’s clothing.

Sugaya, 62, was arrested in December 1991 on suspicion of kidnapping and killing the girl at a river in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, in May 1990. He initially confessed but later withdrew the admission and denied being the culprit.

An initial test done shortly after the murder matched Sugaya’s DNA with that from body fluid found on the girl’s clothing.

The Utsunomiya District Court sentenced him to life in prison in 1993, as sought by prosecutors. The Tokyo High Court and the Supreme Court dismissed appeals in 1996 and 2000, although the credibility of the DNA test conducted in the case was questioned.

Sugaya’s case marked the first time the credibility of a DNA test was upheld. His counsel, however, filed with the district court for a retrial in December 2002 with new evidence regarding DNA test analysis.

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