National / Crime & Legal

In rare move, Japan's Supreme Court rejects lower court rulings for retrial of woman, 92, over 1979 murder

Kyodo

The Supreme Court said Wednesday it has rejected lower and high court decisions to hold a retrial for a 92-year-old woman who served 10 years in prison over the 1979 murder of her former brother-in-law in Kagoshima Prefecture.

All five Supreme Court judges made the unanimous decision on Tuesday to dismiss the retrial of Ayako Haraguchi after the district court granted the retrial request and the high court upheld the decision.

It is the first time since 1975 that the top court has rejected a retrial decision made by a district court and upheld by a high court.

Both the Kagoshima District Court and the Miyazaki branch of the Fukuoka High Court had agreed to a retrial in June 2017 and March 2018, respectively. Prosecutors appealed both decisions.

The defense submitted a forensic report that said there was a high chance that the death of her former brother-in-law, Kunio Nakamura, 42, was caused by an accident. Confessions by her relatives were not credible as they may have been influenced by investigative authorities, they said.

However, the Supreme Court said the previous testimonies were trustworthy, while the new evidence supporting an accidental death had no probative value as the forensics experts had not personally seen the body.

“This is not acceptable,” head defense lawyer Masami Mori said at a news conference Wednesday after the verdict. “I feel regret and am at a loss for words whenever I think about proving her innocence while she is alive.”

The 92-year-old has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Haraguchi was arrested in October 1979 along with three other family members, including her husband at the time, on suspicion of strangling Nakamura with a towel and abandoning his body in a cattle barn beside his home in the town of Osaki earlier that month.

In 1980, the district court found Haraguchi guilty of killing Nakamura on the grounds that her sister-in-law said Haraguchi proposed the murder to her husband, suggesting she had been unhappy about Nakamura’s conduct. Her sentence was finalized in 1981.

Her husband was sentenced to eight years in prison. Haraguchi later divorced him and he died in 1993. The Supreme Court also rejected Tuesday a request for his retrial submitted by a relative.

Haraguchi filed a request for her retrial in 1995 and again in 2010, but both were subsequently rejected. This was her third attempt.

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