The family of an executed death row inmate has decided to request a retrial, possibly posing another challenge to a DNA-based conviction, his lawyers have said.
Michitoshi Kuma was hanged at the Fukuoka detention house in October at the age of 70. He was found guilty of abducting two elementary school girls in 1992 in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, and strangling them in his car.
Kuma, who was arrested in 1994, denied any involvement to police and pleaded not guilty at his trial. But the Supreme Court turned down his appeal in September 2006, upholding a lower court decision that sentenced him to death.
The family’s move was apparently stirred by Thursday’s release of 62-year-old Toshikazu Sugaya, who was convicted of a 1990 murder in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, on the basis of a DNA test. Further tests conducted more than 15 years after the fact showed it is almost certain Sugaya didn’t commit the crime.
It is the first time prosecutors have suspended a prison sentence for a prisoner demanding a retrial.
Kuma also was reportedly convicted on the basis of DNA testing based on blood samples from a victim’s body.
According to his lawyers, the DNA was tested using a method called MCT118 — the same one used in the Ashikaga case. Both tests were conducted at around the same time.
The chances of finding two people with the same DNA sequence were 1 in 1,000 during the Ashikaga case. But over the past 17 years, the accuracy of DNA testing has improved vastly, reducing the probability to just 1 out of 4.7 trillion.
After his release, Sugaya, who was serving a life sentence, said Thursday that he confessed to the slaying because the investigators refused to believe him. He also said he had faced violence from them.
“I thought that because I am innocent, the DNA test didn’t match,” Sugaya told reporters.
Commenting on the Ashikaga case, Yasuyuki Tokuda, Kuma’s former lawyer, said that it became clear the court blindly trusted the ‘scientific proof’ that was presented.
“I’m sure the Ashikaga case will have a tremendous impact on other cases that got guilty verdicts around the same time,” Tokuda said.
The National Police Agency and Tochigi police have set up in-house teams to study problems with the Ashikaga case in light of Sugaya’s release.
The Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office has already decided to conduct an overall review of the Ashikaga case.
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