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UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Pref. (Kyodo) A man who was apparently wrongfully convicted for the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, said Wednesday he forgives Tochigi Prefectural Police Chief Shoichiro Ishikawa after getting an apology from him.

“I forgive (Ishikawa) since I felt he sincerely apologized,” Toshikazu Sugaya, 62, told reporters.

Ishikawa offered the apology when Sugaya visited the prefectural police headquarters in Utsunomiya.

“I apologize from the bottom of my heart for causing you pain for a long period of time,” Ishikawa told Sugaya, referring to his arrest and imprisonment.

It is the first time investigative authorities have apologized face to face to Sugaya since his release from prison earlier this month.

A senior prosecutor and the National Police Agency chief had already expressed their apologies through statements or in press conferences.

Sugaya nodded twice when Ishikawa made the apology. Sugaya’s lawyer told the press conference that Ishikawa offered the apology on behalf of all the investigators involved in the case. Sugaya, however, added he will only forgive other police investigators and prosecutors who interrogated him “if they say, ‘I’m sorry,’ in front of me.”

Later in the day, Sugaya returned to Ashikaga, his hometown, for the first time in over 17 years.

“Memories of this town have never disappeared from my mind while I was in jail,” Sugaya told reporters. “I can’t think of any words to describe my feeling now that I’m back here.”

His homecoming was highlighted by a visit to the spot by the Watarase River where Mami Matsuda was found slain on May 13, 1990.

“Both you and I are victims,” Sugaya said as if he was speaking to the girl, after observing a moment for her. “I promise to you that I will get the real culprit who took your life.”

Throughout his Ashikaga trip, Sugaya was a local hero. While he was accompanied by some of his supporters in his legal battle, local residents who had heard about his homecoming also gathered to see him near the murder spot.

“I hurried here after I learned about his visit on a lunch-break TV news program,” said a 62-year-old woman who said she was Sugaya’s classmate at a local junior high school. “I’m so happy to see him back in town.”

In his meeting with Ashikaga Mayor Minoru Omamida, Sugaya was offered the town’s full support in restarting his life, ranging from an offer to provide him with city housing to a plan to recruit him as a school bus driver for a public elementary school, city officials said.

The Tokyo High Court will decide next week whether to retry Sugaya, which would lead to him being cleared as prosecutors have already decided to seek an acquittal. He was freed June 4 after fresh DNA tests indicated Sugaya’s did not match traces found on Matsuda’s clothes, contrary to initial test results that led to his conviction.

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