TOKYO: A Nepalese man who spent 15 years in a Japanese jail for a murder he did not commit was formally acquitted on Wednesday after a retrial.
Govinda Prasad Mainali, 46, was declared not guilty by the Tokyo High Court, at a short hearing held despite his having been deported to Nepal weeks ago after his conviction was quashed earlier this year.
The same court had in 2000 found him guilty of killing a 39-year-old woman and sentenced him to life in prison, overturning a lower court’s not-guilty verdict.
The Supreme Court upheld Mainali’s life sentence in 2003.
The case attracted lurid headlines, particularly in the tabloid press, which said the victim was leading a double life as an elite businesswoman by day and a prostitute by night.
Mainali was released from jail in June and sent back to Nepal by immigration authorities because he had — during his time in prison — overstayed his visa.
But the court still went through with the retrial, which was opened at the start of last week with the prosecution saying it now believed he was innocent.
After going into recess to consider the verdict, presiding judge Shoji Ogawa on Wednesday delivered his findings.
“There is a reasonable doubt about the conclusion that (Mainali) was the guilty party. There was no erroneous recognition of facts in the original ruling that issued a not-guilty verdict,” he said.
Police in 1997 arrested Mainali, who knew the victim and lived near the Tokyo apartment where her strangled body was found.
Mainali, who had always maintained his innocence, officially asked Japan’s slow-moving justice system for a retrial in 2005. The retrial was granted only this year.
Fresh DNA evidence, also tested only this year, proved the original probe had overlooked the significant fact that semen found inside the woman was not Mainali’s.
DNA samples collected from the nails of the victim as well as body hair found in the room were a match with the semen, further supporting Mainali’s claim that he was not the killer, local media said.
The case has led to greater media scrutiny of Japan’s justice system and particularly the role of prosecutors, who take a leading role in criminal investigations.
Japan has a very high rate of conviction and relies heavily on confessions. Suspects can be held for many weeks while police make their case and critics say this leads to abuses where those arrested are ground down until they give investigators what they want.
No one else has been arrested in connection with the murder.
Mainali was due to speak to media in Nepal later in the day.