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The Osaka High Court on Thursday upheld a lower court’s acquittal of a man previously sentenced to death for murdering his daughter-in-law and her son before setting fire to their Osaka apartment in 2002.

Takemitsu Mori, a 59-year-old prison guard on administrative leave, was acquitted by the Osaka District Court in March 2012 after the Supreme Court ordered a retrial, repealing the high court’s death sentence in a rare decision.

The focus of the case was what to make of the circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecutors while Mori consistently denied the charges, saying he had never entered the apartment.

Mori did not attend the trial because retrials at higher courts do not oblige defendants to be present.

Presiding Judge Shinichiro Fukuzaki rejected the prosecutor’s claim that Mori’s knowledge about the location of furniture in the apartment proved he had been there. The judge said the defendant could have learned the arrangement from conversations with family members after the incident.

Mori was arrested in November 2002, seven months after Mayumi Mori, 28, and her 1-year-old son Toma were found dead in their apartment in Osaka’s Hirano Ward on April 14 that year. The woman was found strangled and her son drowned.

In April 2010, the Supreme Court rejected both the life sentence handed down by a district court and the death penalty by a high court, declaring that the court needed to see evidence proving that only the defendant could have committed the crime.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Osaka District Court found Mori not guilty, saying there was no evidence that proved he entered the apartment on the day of the incident.

In the latest examination at the high court, a DNA analysis was conducted on a dog harness that prosecutors alleged to be the murder weapon, but no link to Mori was found.

Prosecutors requested a review of the lower court’s acquittal as saliva found on a cigarette butt discovered in a staircase at the apartment matched Mori’s DNA and an eyewitness saw a car of the same type and color as Mori’s near the apartment.

The defense counsel asked the court to reject the appeal, arguing that the court was presented with no credible evidence showing that the cigarette butt was discarded on the day of the incident.

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