National / Crime & Legal

Fukuoka High Court nixes retrial for hanged inmate over 1992 murder case

Kyodo

A high court Tuesday rejected an appeal to reopen a 1992 murder case in which a prisoner was executed for abducting and killing two girls in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Upholding a lower court decision, the Fukuoka High Court dismissed calls to retry Michitoshi Kuma, who was executed in 2008 at age 70, saying his conviction was firmly established.

The case drew attention as it would have been Japan’s first posthumous retrial of an executed convict, according to the Justice Ministry.

Categorically denying the claims by defense lawyers, presiding Judge Makoto Okada said it had been verified “beyond rational doubt” that Kuma was the culprit.

The defense lawyers said they will appeal to the top court.

In 1994, more than 2½ years after the incident, Kuma was arrested and indicted on charges of kidnapping and strangling the two 7-year-old girls, who were on their way to school in the city of Iizuka.

Despite a lack of direct evidence and Kuma’s insistence he was innocent, the Fukuoka District Court sentenced him to death in 1999 based on circumstantial evidence.

The decision was upheld by the high court and was finalized by the Supreme Court in 2006. After Kuma was hanged, his widow filed an appeal for a retrial in 2009, claiming false DNA test results led to his conviction. The district court rejected the appeal in 2014.

Focal points of the latest court proceedings included a witness account of a suspicious car similar to that of Kuma’s near the place where the girls’ belongings were abandoned, as well as the credibility of DNA and blood type test results.

The defense team submitted new evidence from a forensic expert arguing that the testimony of the eyewitness was guided by a police officer and that the DNA left on the bodies of the girls was not Kuma’s.

But the judge decided the witness account had not been based on police guidance.

“The probative value of a DNA test (in the case) needs to be assessed carefully, but the conclusion remains unchanged,” he said.