KUMAMOTO – The Kumamoto District Court on Thursday decided to retry an 83-year-old man who served a prison term for fatally stabbing an acquaintance in 1985.
The court said “doubts have been raised” over the credibility of Koki Miyata’s initial confessions, pointing to “contradictions” found between what he said and evidence presented by Miyata’s defense team.
Miyata initially confessed to investigators that he killed the 59-year-old acquaintance. He also pleaded guilty in the first hearing at the Kumamoto District Court in April 1985. But he later said, “Most of what I have confessed was not true.”
The court, however, sentenced him to 13 years in prison the following year, judging that his confessions were credible. The conviction was upheld by higher courts and finalized in 1990.
According to the ruling, Miyata stabbed the acquaintance with a knife at the victim’s home in what was then the town of Matsubase, Kumamoto Prefecture, in the early hours of Jan. 6, 1985.
Just before the alleged stabbing, Miyata had argued with the man during a meal with others at the victim’s home. Miyata went home but returned and killed the man, the ruling said.
Acting on behalf of Miyata, who has shown symptoms of dementia, a lawyer serving as his guardian filed a petition for a retrial with the district court in March 2012.
In the process, Miyata’s defense team presented what it said was “new evidence,” including an expert analysis showing the victim’s scars did not match the shape of the knife believed to have been used in the crime. It also submitted “a strip of cloth” that Miyata had initially stated was wrapped around the knife and burned by him afterward.
Prosecutors said the new evidence did not provide sufficient grounds for a retrial.
But the court concluded that “there is reasonable doubt about the conviction.” It also touched on the possibility that the murder weapon may not have been the knife.
“Mr. Miyata might have made up the story,” presiding Judge Yoshihisa Mizokuni said in the court decision, adding his confessions could have been the result of “adjusting” to the views of investigators.
A senior official of the Kumamoto District Public Prosecutor’s Office said the decision was “unexpected” and the office will deal “appropriately” with the matter.
Miyata smiled slightly and became tearful as a lawyer told him that his case would be reopened. He arrived in a wheelchair to a news conference in the city of Kumamoto.
His supporters rejoiced after the decision, with Makoto Saito, one of the lawyers leading the defense team, saying, “We will work hard toward an acquittal. We are happy.”
Miyata’s eldest son, Takahiro Miyata, 60, has also supported his father in efforts to secure a retrial, repeatedly criticizing the police and prosecutors over how they conducted the investigation.
Takahiro Miyata divorced his wife after his father was arrested, concerned that the incident could adversely affect his daughter’s future.
While believing in his father’s innocence, Takahiro Miyata said at the time he “had somewhat given up hope” that his father would be acquitted. But he gradually came to believe that he should work to prove his father’s innocence while he was still alive.
Takahiro Miyata was not able to attend the gathering of supporters on Thursday as he has been admitted to a hospital.