On Dec. 15 the Supreme Court upheld lower court decisions ordering a retrial of two men convicted in a 1967 murder-robbery case in the town of Tone, Ibaraki Prefecture. Although no material evidence came forth in the case, the life sentences given to the two men were finalized in 1978 on the strength of their confessions and an eyewitness account. They were released on parole in 1996. The top court decision strengthens the case for video-recording the entire process of interrogation of criminal suspects.

In August 1967, a carpenter was strangled and robbed of ¥100,700 at Fukawa in Tone. Two men who were arrested the following October confessed to the crime. But after their transfer to a detention facility of the Justice Ministry, they denied involvement. After they were sent back to a police facility, they again confessed to the crime.

The defense counsel’s initial request for a retrial was eventually turned down in 1992. In its second retrial request in 2001, it submitted more than 140 pieces of new evidence. Among the evidence was an investigator’s record of an eyewitness’ oral statement that she saw two men near the victim’s house. The prosecution had hidden this record in the original trial.

It was found that the physiques and hairstyles of the two men seen by her were different from those of the two convicts. Although she knew one of the convicts, she could not declare that one of the two men she saw was that man. Her account cast serious doubt on the trustworthiness of another eyewitness account that the two convicted men were seen near the crime scene.

In an attempt to quash the retrial request, the prosecution submitted a tape recording of part of the interrogation process. Ironically, experts determined that the recording had been edited, contributing to the decision to hold a retrial.

The police and the prosecution should pay attention to the lower courts’ view that the confessions were erratic and did not correspond to details of the crime scene and that a public prosecutor repeatedly used leading questions. The investigative authorities need to strictly examine their actions.

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