Man exonerated after 17 years in Japan jail

TOKYO: Japan exonerated a man today who spent more than 17 years in prison owing to flawed DNA evidence and a coerced confession, strengthening calls for police interrogations to be videotaped in future.

Judges bowed in apology to Toshikazu Sugaya, 63, a former kindergarten bus driver who was put behind bars in 1991 for the kidnap, sexual assault and murder of a four-year-old girl.

“As a judge, I sincerely apologise that the court failed to listen to Mr Sugaya’s real voice, which resulted in depriving him of his freedom for 17 and a half years,” said presiding judge Masanobu Sato.

Sugaya was released

in June after his jail term

expired and authorities

ordered a retrial, which

resulted in Friday’s formal acquittal.

After the hearing at Utsunomiya District Court, a tearful Sugaya embraced supporters and told reporters: “I received a clear innocent verdict. I feel calm, with my mind all clear.” Sugaya was first arrested in late 1991 for kidnapping the child in Ashikaga, north of Tokyo, the previous year. The girl’s body was found in a nearby river bed. Her real murderer is still at large.

The bus driver admitted to the charge during his interrogation by prosecutors, who presented him with an initial DNA test that indicated his bodily fluids had been found on the girl’s underwear. He later retracted the confession, saying he had falsely admitted to the crime under duress.