National / Crime & Legal

After 34 years and a 13-year jail term, 85-year-old finally exonerated in Kumamoto murder retrial

Kyodo

In a retrial held decades after his conviction, a court on Thursday acquitted an 85-year-old man of a 1985 murder in Kumamoto Prefecture.

The Kumamoto District Court found Koki Miyata not guilty in the murder of his shogi partner Matao Okamura in Matsubase, Kumamoto Prefecture, more than 34 years ago.

“There is no evidence that shows the defendant was the culprit and the court cannot accept he committed the murder,” said presiding Judge Yoshihisa Mizokuni in handing down the ruling.

“Years have passed since the (initial) ruling was finalized, and it is appropriate to hand down this ruling as quickly as possible.”

Miyata was initially sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1986 over the murder and was only released on parole in 1999.

He now lives in a nursing facility in Kumamoto as he suffers from dementia and is bedridden. He did not appear at the court Thursday and was told of his acquittal while at the facility.

“We are full of emotions as our efforts over more than 30 years bore fruit,” Makoto Saito, a lawyer representing Miyata’s defense team, said at a news conference.

One of Miyata’s sons, Makoto, 60, who was in the courtroom for the ruling, said prosecutors “refused until the end” to accept the contradiction between the evidence and Miyata’s forced confession.

“It is regrettable it ended without them offering any apologies,” he said at the news conference.

The defense team for Miyata requested that prosecutors abandon their right to appeal the ruling.

To open the door for a rare retrial, the team in 1993 approached forensic doctor Yokichi Ono and asked him to reanalyze the victim’s wounds and the knife that was deemed to be the murder weapon.

The legal process to seek a retrial commenced in 2012, with lawyers for Miyata submitting a new analysis by Ono to the Kumamoto court that claimed the knife believed to have been used in the attack was incompatible with the wounds the victim suffered.

The district court decided in June 2016 to reopen the case, saying doubts had been raised about the credibility of Miyata’s confession, a decision that was upheld by the Fukuoka High Court in November 2017 and finalized by the Supreme Court in October last year.

“We were able to have a retrial because lawyers, forensic doctors and everyone else involved thoroughly analyzed mistakes,” Ono said before the ruling.During the first and last hearings of the retrial held in February, prosecutors did not ask for Miyata to be convicted of murder, referring to the top court decision. However, in a separate matter, they did seek a two-year prison sentence for violations of the firearm and sword law, and the gunpowder law. The court sentenced Miyata to one year in prison for those two charges, although Miyata will not have to serve the sentence.

Okamura, 59, was found dead at his home in Matsubase — now a part of the city of Uki — on Jan. 8, 1985, and Miyata was arrested later in the month after he initially confessed to the murder. He later denied being involved during his trial at the district court but was convicted of murder and other charges based on his initial confession.

Japan has seen a slew of retrials held in recent years, stirring concerns about false convictions.

In 2016, a court acquitted Keiko Aoki and her former boyfriend, Tatsuhiro Boku, who spent about 20 years in prison over the murder of Aoki’s 11-year-old daughter in Osaka in 1995.

In another case, Toshikazu Sugaya, who spent over 17 years in prison over the murder of a 4-year-old girl in 1990 in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, was acquitted of the crime in 2010.

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