• Kyodo News


Toshikazu Sugaya, freed from prison last week after new DNA testing indicated his innocence in the slaying of a young girl, says he would have been found guilty even if the lay judge system had been in effect for his trial.

“I think lay judges would have believed the result of the (initial) DNA test and judged that I was guilty,” said Toshikazu Sugaya, 62, who was released Thursday after spending 17 1/2 years behind bars.

“Even if the district court trial in my case was a lay judge trial, I don’t think I would have been acquitted,” said Sugaya, who was sentenced to life when he was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Mami Matsuda, a 4-year-old girl, in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, in 1990.

Sugaya, who once drove a bus for kindergartners, said the accuracy of analyses used as evidence in criminal trials needs to be improved.

Under the lay judge system, which started in late May, six ordinary people and three professional judges will try serious criminal cases, such as murder, at district courts.

The lay judges should reflect “the sound social common sense of the public” more directly in judgments, according to the government.

Sugaya was convicted mainly based on the results of a DNA test conducted shortly after the slaying, when the accuracy of DNA analyses was much lower than those used now. He was freed after a recent test showed his DNA does not match that of dried body fluid found on Matsuda’s clothing.

Sugaya, who claims he was forced by investigators to confess, said all questioning of criminal suspects should be recorded. “I can never forgive (police officers and prosecutors) unless they apologize to me, my parents and siblings . . . I want the judges to apologize, too,” he said.

Police and prosecutors have started partial recordings of interrogations on a trial basis.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations, saying closed-door questioning has been a hotbed for wrongful convictions, has called for enactment of a law requiring full recordings.

A bill toward that end was introduced by the opposition camp in April. It has passed the Upper House, but the Lower House has not taken it up.

Recalling his time behind bars, Sugaya said there were times when he felt he would never get out. He expressed joy for having been released by saying, “White rice is delicious.”

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