OSAKA – A woman who served more than 20 years of a life term declared Monday during her retrial that she is innocent of killing her 11-year-old daughter in a 1995 house fire.
“I did not do it,” Keiko Aoki, 52, said at the Osaka District Court. “Neither did I conspire (in the girl’s death). I am innocent.”
Aoki is set to be acquitted on Aug. 10 along with her de facto husband Tatsuhiro Boku, 50, as prosecutors have decided not to pursue fresh guilty verdicts for the pair.
But the prosecutors did not request a not-guilty verdict in their closing arguments during Boku’s retrial last week, and have denied that police conducted unlawful investigations.
Aoki told the court she had falsely confessed to the murder of her daughter, and that she “felt like dying” after a prolonged interrogation by an investigator who continued to shout at her.
Lawyers for Aoki told the court they doubted her confessions were made voluntarily and requested that the court remove them as evidence, while arguing the fire that killed Aoki’s daughter Megumi could have started accidentally.
Lawyers for Aoki, in an apparent attempt to rebut the prosecutors’ claims, disclosed to reporters before Monday’s retrial an Osaka police diary that said investigators spoke forcefully and loudly during interrogations.
The disclosed portion of the diary, covering four days, showed that interrogations were carried out for about 10 hours daily, beginning in the morning.
It also said Aoki lowered her eyes after an investigator repeatedly asked her in a loud voice why she did not save her daughter.
The diary stated that tears welled her eyes when investigators said, “Didn’t Megumi yell mommy when she was dying? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
Aoki and Boku were arrested in September 1995 on suspicion of lighting a fire that killed Aoki’s daughter Megumi at their Osaka home in July of that year.
Based on Boku’s confession that he sprayed gasoline inside a garage and set it on fire with a lighter, the couple was convicted at the district court in 1999.
Boku and Aoki were released from prison in October last year after the Osaka High Court upheld a lower court ruling that granted their retrial plea.
The two argued that the blaze in the garage of their home could have been accidental, based on experiments conducted by both prosecutors and defense lawyers.
During an interview last month, Aoki said she is now trying to spend as much time as possible with her parents and her son.
After she was released from prison in October last year, she started living with her elderly parents while taking care of them and working a part-time job.
Her son, who was 8 years old when she was arrested, is now nearly 30. They communicate with each other via mobile phones that they purchased together.
“I didn’t know how to talk to him (at first) even though we are mother and son,” said Aoki.
But things improved after they went on a family trip together in November, talked things over and slept on a futon side by side. Recently they also went to an izakaya bar together.
Time heals. But it still hurts to think about her daughter and visit the place where she died.
Going near the site of the house they used to share used to make Aoki feel sick, but now she can stand there for a little while.
“There’s still sorrow, and tears well up, but after more than twenty years a lot of things have changed,” Aoki said.
She can now eat shrimp, her daughter’s favorite dish, something she couldn’t do for many years.
Her daughter Megumi, who would have been 32 by now, is wearing a white dress in a photo Aoki carries with her.
“I feel like I’m being protected, and not alone,” she said.