In the retrial of Mr. Toshikazu Sugaya, who served 17 1/2 years of a life sentence before being released in June on the strength of a new DNA test, the Utsunomiya District Court on Friday declared him innocent in the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture.
The presiding judge apologized to Mr. Sugaya for the ordeal the judiciary had caused him, and the prosecution gave up its right to appeal the ruling. This is the sixth postwar case in which a person given a death or life sentence has been found innocent on retrial.
Mr. Sugaya’s drama demonstrates the dreadful consequences of false charges. The police, the prosecution and the court, which had delivered a life sentence to Mr. Sugaya in a July 1993 ruling, must now launch an all-out effort to determine what went wrong with the investigation and the trial.
On May 12, 1990, the 4-year-old girl went missing. The next day her body was found on the shore of the Watarase River. The police arrested Mr. Sugaya on Dec. 2, 1991. Confronted with the result of the original DNA test, he confessed to the crime during a 13-hour interrogation. In July 2000, the Supreme Court finalized his life sentence. In December 2008, the Tokyo High Court ordered a new DNA test at the defense counsel’s urging. Last June the court decided to retry Mr. Sugaya and released him from prison after the new DNA test indicated his innocence.
Before the retrial started, Mr. Sugaya said he had gotten scared during his first interrogation after police officers shouted in his face, pulled his hair and kicked him. Audio tapes of Mr. Sugaya’s interrogation played back during the retrial revealed how Mr. Sugaya, who denied the accusation of murder at first, was manipulated into admitting to it. The prosecutor’s written record neglected to mention that, when the interrogation began, Mr. Sugaya had denied involvement.
The ruling declared that the interrogation itself was unlawful because the investigator neither informed Mr. Sugaya that he had the right to remain silent nor notified Mr. Sugaya’s lawyer about the interrogation in advance.
The retrial clearly underscores the case for videotaping the entire process of investigative interrogations. The government should quickly take the necessary legal steps.
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