OSAKA – The Osaka District Court acquitted a couple on Wednesday over the 1995 death of an 11-year-old girl, in a long-awaited retrial.
Keiko Aoki, 52, and Tatsuhiro Boku, 50, each served a little over 20 years for the murder of Aoki’s daughter in a house fire in Osaka Prefecture.
In the retrial, the court found no credibility in confessions that the pair allegedly gave during interrogation.
“I was given a complete acquittal. It was a great judgment,” Aoki said after the ruling.
She plans to sue the state for compensation for being deprived of liberty on false grounds. The pair were serving life terms when they secured the retrial.
It is the 10th case since 1975 in which a person sentenced to either the death penalty or life in prison has been acquitted in a retrial, according to the Supreme Court.
In Wednesday’s ruling, presiding Judge Goichi Nishino said none of the confessions made by Boku during investigations could be taken as evidence of guilt. The court similarly found no credibility in Aoki’s confession during investigations.
“There is a possibility that the two were forced into making false confessions after (investigators) instilled fear in them and applied excessive psychological pressure,” the judge said.
The ruling said the fire could have been accidental, adding that Boku’s confession contained nothing that could be considered first-hand insight.
The court also said it was possible that an interrogator coerced Boku into making an “unnatural” and involuntary confession.
But the court did not address the reason for the judiciary’s wrongful conviction, or apologize to Aoki.
Aoki and Boku were retried separately, with their verdicts given on the same day.
Prosecutors decided in March not to pursue fresh convictions against the couple as they could not prove the two were guilty of the crime in the retrial. The move effectively ensured the couple’s acquittal.
Aoki and Boku were convicted by the district court in 1999. Their conviction mainly relied on Boku’s confession that he spread gasoline inside a garage and set it on fire with a lighter.
Aoki and Boku have maintained their innocence throughout the retrials. They requested in 2009 that their cases be retried.
The couple were granted retrials by the court in 2012. The decision was upheld by the Osaka High Court last October and the two were subsequently released from prison.
But doubts were raised about Boku’s confession as evidence, following experiments conducted by both prosecutors and defense lawyers after their sentences were finalized by the Supreme Court in 2006. The experiments indicated the possibility that the garage blaze could have been accidental.
Another key piece of evidence that led to their retrials was an Osaka police diary detailing forceful police questioning.
The defense lawyers presented the diary during Aoki’s trial and also disclosed beforehand a portion of it to reporters.
In her retrial session in April, Aoki told the court she had falsely confessed to her daughter’s murder as she “felt like dying” after a prolonged interrogation by an investigator who continued to shout at her.
The couple were arrested in September 1995 on suspicion of lighting a fire that killed the girl at their Osaka home in July 1995. A life insurance policy had been taken out for the girl, then a sixth-grader in elementary school