• Kyodo

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“I’m innocent,” a man who served more than 20 years of a life term over an 11-year-old girl’s death in a 1995 house fire declared Thursday as a retrial was held in the Osaka District Court.

Tatsuhiro Boku, 50, is set to be acquitted along with his de facto wife and ex-inmate Keiko Aoki, the 52-year-old mother of the girl, after prosecutors decided not to pursue fresh guilty verdicts for the pair.

The retrial concluded the same day. The court is expected to pronounce Boku not guilty on Aug. 10.

Aoki is scheduled to go before the court next Monday.

“I did not commit this arson and murder. I am completely innocent,” Boku told the court.

Aoki and Boku were convicted in the district court in 1999 after being arrested in September 1995 for lighting a fire that killed Aoki’s daughter, Megumi, at their Osaka home in July of that year. A ¥15 million ($138,000) life insurance policy had been taken out on the sixth-grader.

The two were released from prison in October last year after the Osaka High Court upheld a retrial plea granted by the district court in 2012.

Defense lawyers had argued it would have been impossible for Boku to have started the fire with a lighter after dousing the scene with several liters of gasoline as he described in an initial confession to investigators.

The high court ruled the garage blaze could have been accidental, based on experiments conducted by both prosecutors and defense lawyers that found smaller amounts of spilled gasoline were able to be readily ignited by a pilot light.

The experiments, which were conducted at a re-creation of the scene, showed an arsonist could not have escaped the fire unhurt.

“I’m disappointed and frustrated that it has taken 21 years (from the fire to the retrial),” Boku said through tears during questioning at the court proceedings Thursday, calling on Japan’s criminal justice system to make sure innocent people are not convicted.

Boku said he did not initially profess his innocence because he “was treated like a criminal, and (investigators) wouldn’t listen no matter how much I protested.”

He said he made a false confession after detectives told him he would be sentenced to death if he denied the charge.

“When the detectives asked me questions that fit in with their narrative, I answered so as to make myself look like an arsonist,” Boku said.

Despite not seeking a guilty verdict, prosecutors defended the investigation, saying the confession was “given spontaneously, although its trustworthiness has since been called into doubt.”

Boku alleged he was subjected to violence during his interrogation, with detectives throttling him by the neck and kicking him in the legs.

“People who haven’t experienced (interrogation) can’t possibly understand how painful and grueling it is,” Boku said.

In closing arguments, Boku’s defense counsel called for an investigation into the reasons behind his conviction in addition to a not guilty verdict, arguing the court had put its trust in a jumbled confession gleaned by prejudiced investigators.

Defense lawyer Yayoi Norii told a news conference a condemnation of prosecutors’ “irresponsible” decision not to clearly declare Boku innocent should be included in the court’s verdict.

Boku’s 74-year-old mother was among those attending the retrial, tearfully embracing supporters after the court proceedings concluded.

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