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The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office and the National Police Agency on April 1 made public the results of their separate internal reviews of the investigations that led to the wrongful conviction of Mr. Toshikazu Sugaya. Mr. Sugaya served 17 1/2 years of a life sentence for the May 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture. He was acquitted March 26 in a retrial in the Utsunomiya District Court, mainly on the strength of a new DNA test.

Both the SPPO and the NPA said a key factor was the investigators’ misplaced confidence in the original DNA test, which was later shown to be flawed. The NPA said that questioning of Mr. Sugaya was based on the false assumption that he was undoubtedly the culprit.

Both bodies were guilty of appalling neglect of fundamental facts. Nobody had seen Mr. Sugaya at the pachinko parlor from where the girl disappeared. Footprints left at the crime scene did not match any of Mr. Sugaya’s shoes. The girl’s fingerprints were not found on a bicycle which, in a confession, he said he used in her abduction. Two people reported seeing a man walking with a young girl on the day of the murder near where her body was found, but investigators paid insufficient attention to scrutinizing these accounts. Both reports said that Mr. Sugaya’s confessions were inconsistent with the actual condition of the girl’s corpse and the crime scene, and did not contain “exposure of secrets” that only the true culprit could know.

The SPPO report said that the chief prosecutor indicted Mr. Sugaya even though his confessions could not be objectively corroborated. Differing accounts given by Mr. Sugaya of such central points as how and where the murder was committed were explained by investigators of both bodies as errors of memory. Some of the discrepancies between Mr. Sugaya’s various confessions defy rational explanation, the SPPO said.

According to the NPA, Mr. Sugaya was questioned exhaustively on the same matter again and again until he supplied the response sought by investigators.

The alarming content of these reports convinces us that videotaping all interrogations in their entirety must become mandatory.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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