Sugaya ToshikazuAshikaga CaseWrongfully Convicted of Rape/Murder 1991Exonerated 2009

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Innocent man who spent 17 years behind bars for murder to receive 80 million yen
(Mainichi Japan) January 13, 2011

UTSUNOMIYA -- A man who spent 17 1/2 years behind bars for a murder he never committed is set to receive approximately 80 million yen in compensation from the government.

The Utsunomiya District Court ordered on Jan. 13 that the state pay compensation -- in addition to some 12 million yen to cover his trial expenses -- to Toshikazu Sugaya, 64. Since Sugaya has no intention of launching a lawsuit to seek state redress, all judicial procedures over the so-called Ashikaga case are set to close.

Sugaya expressed mixed feelings about the conclusion.

"I think it was an appropriate decision. The 17 1/2 years were long," Sugaya said following the court's decision. "However, I'm not satisfied as prosecutors, police investigators and judges who made me suffer have never offered an apology."

Sugaya earlier announced that he intends to donate part of the compensation to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations to help lawyers defend those who are falsely accused of crimes.

In March last year, the Utsunomiya District Court acquitted Sugaya of murdering a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, in May 1990, in a retrial, and the ruling was confirmed after prosecutors abandoned their appeal rights. Prior to the retrial, he had been released while serving a life prison term, after a fresh DNA test suggested he was not involved in the incident.

In September of last year, Sugaya demanded compensation for being detained for 6,395 days -- from Dec. 2, 1991 when he was arrested to June 4, 2009, when he was released prior to the retrial -- in addition to funds to cover his trial expenses.

He claimed that he is entitled to 12,500 yen a day -- the upper limit on such compensation set by the Criminal Compensation Law.

His defense lawyer cited his extreme mental anguish during his imprisonment in explaining the reason for demanding the maximum amount of compensation.

"He was forced to confess to a crime he never committed, and went through an ordeal in prison," the lawyer said. "He lost his parents between his arrest and release, and was unable to be by their side when they died. His mental and physical anguish is immeasurable."

The Utsunomiya District Public Prosecutors Office never countered the defense lawyer's argument.


Sugaya to receive ¥80 million in redress

UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Pref. (Kyodo) The Utsunomiya District Court on Thursday told acquitted child-killer Toshikazu Sugaya that he will receive about ¥80 million in compensation for the 17 1/2 years he spent in prison.

Sugaya, 64, who had been convicted of a 1990 child slaying and cleared by a 2009 DNA test, had requested the amount in September as redress for the mental duress he suffered behind bars.

"I think the amount is appropriate," he said after receiving the note from the court. "The 17 1/2 years were long, but today marks closure."

Sugaya filed a claim under the Criminal Compensation Law after the court exonerated him during a retrial last March in the murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture.

Sugaya was arrested in 1991 and his life sentence was finalized in 2000. He filed a petition for a retrial in 2002. Although the Utsunomiya court dismissed the petition in 2008, the Tokyo High Court, which received an appeal from his lawyers, presented fresh DNA test results in May 2009 that proved his innocence. Sugaya was freed the following month.

Defense lawyers slammed over Ashikaga Incident

Defense lawyers in the first trial were at fault in a false accusation case, in which a man served more than 17 years of a life sentence for the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations said in its research report.

One of the lawyers did not inform Toshikazu Sugaya, the falsely accused man in the murder case known as the ‘‘Ashikaga Incident,’’ of his right to remain silent during the first interview following his arrest, and could not build trust with the defendant due partly to the lawyer’s preconceived notion that Sugaya was the real culprit amid media reports and other information, the report noted.

Slapped with DNA results that investigators said showed that he killed the girl, Sugaya was forced to make a false confession before his first interview with the lawyer and pleaded guilty in the first court hearing.

Sugaya, meanwhile, sent 14 letters to his family claiming his innocence, and his brother delivered them to the lawyer. But the lawyer neglected to confirm the plea by talking with his client, according to the report.

During the court hearings, Sugaya once tried to deny the allegations, but his lawyers ‘‘did not take it seriously and did not work to argue for his case, as they were preoccupied with the idea that he was the true culprit,’’ the report noted.

‘‘It is the duty of a defense lawyer to confirm the truth and hear what the defendant has to say to protect his or her rights,’’ even if the defendant has confessed to a crime, the report said.

The JFBA formed a six-member research team on the Ashikaga Incident last September as part of efforts to prevent false accusations, and recently compiled a report after examining documents and interviewing Sugaya himself and the lawyers involved.

After Sugaya was arrested in 1991 and faced a life sentence, fresh DNA results indicating his innocence were presented, leading to his release from prison in 2009. He was formally acquitted in a retrial in March last year.

Police and prosecutors also released their own reports on the high-profile murder case last year, in which they said they overvalued DNA testing, causing the wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

Examining the investigative process, the JFBA, for its part, stressed the need to introduce full audiovisual recordings of interrogations, saying in the report that the system ‘‘could have prevented investigators from coercing (Sugaya) to make the false confession.’‘

The courts which found him guilty were also blamed for accepting Sugaya’s confession without examining the details and overvaluing the DNA tests, which were not admissible as evidence at that time.

Given that Sugaya did not reveal any secrets that only the real culprit would have known in his confession, the courts ‘‘should have judged its credibility more cautiously,’’ the report said.

‘‘Judges needs to faithfully follow the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ and they should understand that a criminal court could cause a false accusation, the most serious, unforgivable human rights violation,’’ it concluded.

Based on these findings, the lawyers’ group proposed that a third-party panel be set up at the Diet or the cabinet to examine past false accusation cases, including the Ashikaga Incident, and compile measures to prevent them.

The JFBA is considering using this report as study material in training sessions for defense lawyers.

Acquitted man seeks state compensation for suffering in prison over 17 years
23rd September 2010

A 63-year-old man acquitted of murder earlier this year filed a petition Wednesday with the Utsunomiya District Court for about 80 million yen in state compensation for the mental distress he suffered during the 17 and a half years he spent in prison.

In the petition, Toshikazu Sugaya, who was acquitted in a retrial for the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, claimed, ‘‘I was forced to make a false confession, lose my job and live a painful life in prison. The distress I experienced is beyond your imagination.’‘

At a press conference, Sugaya said, ‘‘This is a closure of sorts for me. I feel relieved now.’‘

‘‘I would like to use the money for a living,’’ he said, while adding that he will continue to work for people who have been falsely charged.

Under the criminal compensation law, a person who was acquitted is allowed to seek compensation from the government depending on the period of their serving time.

A court comes up with the amount of damages in a range from 1,000 yen to 12,500 yen per day, taking into consideration whether investigators were at fault or how much psychological distress the person went through.

Sugaya was arrested in 1991 and his sentence of life imprisonment was finalized in 2000. He filed a petition for retrial in 2002. Although the Utsunomiya court dismissed it in 2008, the Tokyo High Court, which received an appeal from his lawyers, presented in May 2009 fresh DNA test results that proved his innocence.

Sugaya was released from prison the following month and was officially acquitted of involvement in the case in March this year.


Murder retrial: Toshikazu Sugaya enters the Utsunomiya District Court Wednesday.

The Japan Times: Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009

"I didn't kill Mami Matsuda. The true culprit is someone else," Toshikazu Sugaya, 63, said at the Utsunomiya District Court. "I've been suffering for 17 1/2 years. I call for a verdict of acquittal in which the whole truth is clarified."

Sugaya, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1993, was released in June after the results of a DNA test that served as evidence for his conviction were thrown out earlier this year by an updated analysis that found his DNA type did not match that of bodily fluid found on the victim.

The Tokyo High Court, which conducted the fresh DNA test, subsequently decided to hold a retrial of the murder, known as the Ashikaga case.

"A trial by professional judges committed the mistake. We want this to be taken seriously," chief defense lawyer Hiroshi Sato said at Wednesday's first session.
"Otherwise the lost trust cannot be recovered. The future of criminal justice hinges on it," he said.

Presiding Judge Masanobu Sato said that as the defense is demanding an apology from the court, "We will consider it at the time of the final judgment after sitting on the case from an impartial and neutral standpoint."
Sato called Sugaya by his name rather than "the suspect" as in usual trials, honoring a request from the defense.
During the session, the court examined the evidence admitted in the initial trial, including Sugaya's deposition, in which he said: "I strangled Mami for about 20 seconds."
Sugaya confessed to the slaying during interrogation by prosecutors but later withdrew his admission and pleaded not guilty at his initial trial at the district court.

The sentence of life imprisonment was finalized in 2000 when the Supreme Court ruled the initial DNA test result was trustworthy.

The authorities have admitted Sugaya's arrest and indictment were flawed, and prosecutors are seeking to swiftly conclude the retrial and declare him innocent.
On Oct. 5, the chief prosecutor at the Utsunomiya District Public Prosecutor's Office, Hideo Makuta, gave Sugaya a face-to-face apology.

Sugaya to start life again in hometown after 18 years
(Dec. 4, 2009)
The Yomiuri Shimbun

UTSUNOMIYA--After 18 years, Toshikazu Sugaya will embark on a new life in his hometown as early as Friday as his retrial over being convicted of the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, continues.
During a press conference at the city hall Wednesday, it was learned that Sugaya, 63, will move into a municipal-run housing unit arranged by the municipal government.
The retrial, which is expected to exonerate Sugaya, is scheduled to finish on March 26.

Sugaya expressed his joy over returning to his hometown. "It's great that I'm able to return [to Ashikaga]," he said. "I'll get a job and live my life quietly just like I did before."
He will be moving into a southward-facing accommodation with three rooms, a dining room and a kitchen.
"I'll get plenty of sunlight and it'll be warm in winter," Sugaya said. "That's more than enough for me."

Meanwhile, Ashikaga Mayor Minoru Omamiuda, who was at the press conference, indicated he would offer Sugaya a job as a temporary worker in the city hall from next fiscal year. Several positions have been raised, such as a school bus driver or a person in charge of delivering documents. The final choice will be up to Sugaya, the mayor said.

Since his release in June, Sugaya has rented an apartment near his lawyer's home in Yokohama. However, as Sugaya stated his desire to spend the year-end period in his hometown, change-of-residence registration forms were submitted to the Ashikaga municipal office on Nov. 25, and were accepted.


Chief prosecutor apologizes to man wrongfully jailed for 17 years for murder
Monday 05th October,


A chief public prosecutor in Tochigi Prefecture on Monday apologized to a man who had been jailed for about 17 years until recently over the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl before a fresh DNA test effectively proved his innocence.

During the first face-to-face apology offered by a representative of the prosecution at the Utsunomiya District Public Prosecutors Office, Hideo Makuta, the top prosecutor at the office, told Toshikazu Sugaya, 62, ‘‘I apologize from the bottom of my heart as a representative of the prosecutors,’’ according to the prosecutors office.

‘‘I deeply regret the pain that has been caused for innocent Mr. Sugaya by wrongfully indicting him and making him serve in prison for such a long time,’’ Makuta was also quoted as saying.

Sugaya’s lawyers, who accompanied him on the visit to the prosecutors office, said he replied, ‘‘No one else should go through the same agony that I faced.’’

After the meeting, Sugaya told reporters, ‘‘I felt like I should forgive him after seeing him in person.’’

Also Monday, the Utsunomiya prosecutors office decided to disclose audiotapes and written records of interrogations of Sugaya over the unsolved murders of two other young girls in the area to his lawyers at their request.

Sugaya’s defense counsel had requested the disclosure as part of efforts to clarify the process that led to Sugaya making false confessions in the 1990 murder known as the Ashikaga case.

But the lawyers said they decided not to publicize the tapes and documents on agreement with the prosecutors.

Sugaya, who was arrested in December 1991, claimed his innocence at his trial, but was sentenced to life imprisonment mainly based on DNA analysis.

He was released in June this year after a fresh DNA test employing a more accurate method was conducted to show that his DNA type did not match that of bodily fluid found on the girl’s underwear.

Shoichiro Ishikawa, a top investigator of the Tochigi prefectural police, apologized directly to Sugaya shortly after his release from prison in June.
Lifer's DNA retested, erasing link to girl slain in '90
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Kyodo News

Two fresh DNA tests ordered by the Tokyo High Court, in a reversal of an earlier finding, showed that a sample taken from an inmate serving life for the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Tochigi Prefecture did not match body fluid found on the victim's clothing, investigative sources have said.

News photo
Toshikazu Sugaya KYODO PHOTO

The new finding came to light Monday after the DNA tests were conducted by scientists recruited on behalf of both Toshikazu Sugaya, 62, who was convicted in 2000 of killing the girl, and prosecutors.

The high court ordered the latest DNA tests in December, acting on an appeal Sugaya filed immediately after his request for retrial was rejected by a district court in Tochigi Prefecture in February 2008.

Sugaya was arrested in December 1991 on suspicion of kidnapping and killing the girl at a river in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, in May 1990. Initially, he confessed to killing her but later denied the allegation.

An initial DNA test conducted just after the murder matched Sugaya's DNA type with the body fluid found on the girl's clothing.

Based on this evidence, the Supreme Court upheld his murder conviction. His life sentence was finalized in July 2000, marking the first time the credibility of a DNA test was certified in Japan.

The latest finding is expected to open the door for a retrial.

The scientists from both camps are expected to submit the finding to the Tokyo High Court possibly by the end of this month, the sources said.

Sugaya's lawyer, Hiroshi Sato, said he would not comment until he receives official notification from the court.

He said his client's case marks the first time an initial DNA finding has been re-examined for a retrial.

The accuracy of DNA testing has significantly improved since it was introduced to criminal investigations in Japan in 1989. The probability of two people having a complete DNA match using the latest technology is one in 4.7 trillion. It was one to two in 1,000 under the method employed for Sugaya's initial DNA test.

Questioning the credibility of the initial DNA finding, Sugaya's lawyer has separately conducted a DNA test using Sugaya's hair and submitted a result saying the DNA type of the body fluid found on the girl's clothing failed to match that of Sugaya's. But the Supreme Court at that time did not take up the finding.