nakamura-kuniharu Nakamura Kuniharu Charged with murder and arson

Prosecution demanded death: third case in postwar history of capital case ending in not guilty verdict


Top court acquits man charged with murder, arson but says he was likely culprit

February 24, 2012

Acquittals are not usually accompanied by statements of probable guilt, but that's exactly what happened on Feb. 22 when, in the very same decision that set a man accused of a multiple murder free, the Supreme Court declared him highly likely to have committed the crime. Kuniharu Nakamura, 41, was under indictment for murder, arson to an inhabited structure and fraud for the alleged 2001 killing of his mother and two daughters in Hiroshima's Nishi Ward in order to collect on life insurance policies he had taken out on them. "Though there is a high suspicion that the defendant was the culprit, his description of the crime was inconsistent," Presiding Justice Seishi Kanetsuki of the top court's No. 1 Petty Bench said as he upheld a lower court acquittal. Nakamura had confessed to the allegations during the initial police investigation, but declared his innocence after being indicted. Prosecutors had demanded that Nakamura be sentenced to death. Nakamura was specifically accused of strangling his 53-year-old mother at her home, setting fire to the structure and burning his 8- and 6-year-old daughters to death in January 2001. He was also alleged to have collected about 73 million yen in life insurance money. As there was no hard evidence linking Nakamura to the incident, the focal point of his trials was the credibility of his confession. During police questioning, Nakamura admitted that he had murdered the three victims in order to collect life insurance benefits. However, he denied involvement in the case during court hearings, saying, "I accommodated myself to investigators." The Hiroshima district and high courts acquitted him after deeming that his confession was not credible. The top court said the defendant's confession could be interpreted as highly credible, pointing out that the details of his statement match some objective evidence such as the cause of his mother's death, that he had consistently admitted to the allegations until he was indicted and that he had sent a letter to his sister saying he would be sentenced to death. Nevertheless, the court upheld the high court's ruling that denied his confession was logically credible. The high court had pointed out that he had not known the exact amount of life insurance benefits he could receive, and that kerosene he was accused of pouring on the floor of his mother's home before setting it alight was not found on his clothes.


Man again ruled not guilty of killing his mom, 2 daughters

HIROSHIMA -- A high court upheld a lower court ruling that acquitted a man of killing his mother and his two daughters for an insurance payout. Kuniharu Nakamura, 39, was declared innocent at the Hiroshima High Court on Monday, after prosecutors, who had sought the death penalty against him, appealed an initial district court verdict. "There are some rational doubts as to whether the defendant committed the crime, and the original decision stands," said Presiding Judge Yasuhide Narazaki. Nakamura was accused of strangling his mother Sayoko, 53, and setting fire to her home, leading to the deaths of his daughters Ayaka, 8, and Arisu, 6, in order to collect 73 million yen from life insurance on them. The major point of contention in the case was the credibility of his confession. "While the confession says: 'I doused the home in kerosene,' there were no traces of oil products found on his trousers, throwing the credibility of the confession into doubt," according to the ruling. A letter sent by Nakamura to his younger sister that hinted at his culpability was admitted as evidence, but was deemed insufficient for a conviction. "It's unfortunate that public prosecutors' claims were not recognized," said Torao Tsukuma of the Hiroshima High Public Prosecutors Office. "We will examine the contents of the judicial decision and decide on our future course of action." Click here for the original Japanese story (Mainichi Japan) December 15, 2009


Benefit of the doubt favors man in family slaying
Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007

HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) The Hiroshima District Court on Wednesday acquitted a man charged with setting a house afire and killing his mother and two young daughters in Hiroshima in 2001 to collect insurance money. Kuniharu Nakamura, 37, was accused of strangling his mother, Sayoko, 53, pouring kerosene in the home and setting it on fire on Jan. 17, 2001, killing his daughters Ayaka, 8, and Arisu, 6. Prosecutors said he collected some ¥73 million in insurance money from the three deaths. Nakamura was released later Wednesday. The prosecutors, who had demanded the death penalty, immediately appealed. The presiding judge, Keisuke Hosoda, said the court found "reasonable doubt" concerning the details of the defendant's confessions. Nakamura confessed to the crimes during the initial interrogations, but pleaded not guilty in court, citing a lack of motive or evidence that he was at the scene. The prosecutors accused him of committing the crime to pay off his debts. According to the Supreme Court, Wednesday's ruling was only the third acquittal since 1978 — the most recent year for which relevant data are available — for someone facing the death sentence. The other two rulings were handed down in May 2005 by the Saga District Court and in November 2006 by the Toyama District Court. In his ruling, Judge Hosoda said Nakamura's confessions are partly credible because they matched some of the objective evidence. "However, upon close examination (of the confessions), the court cannot (conclude) that the defendant was responsible" for the murders, he said. After delivering the verdict, the judge told Nakamura that the court did not believe him to be innocent but that it could not conclude he was guilty, either. "To avoid a false conviction, the court strictly applied the principle of a criminal trial — that the benefit of the doubt should go to the defendant," the judge said. "It is an easy-to-understand ruling that followed the criminal trial principle that the defendant should get the benefit of the doubt," Nakamura's lawyer Noriaki Nikoku said. "The ruling is totally unacceptable, and we have immediately appealed the case to a higher court," said Keiichi Yamakawa, deputy chief prosecutor at the Hiroshima District Public Prosecutor's Office. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Man acquitted in murders of mother, children 11/28/2007 THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

HIROSHIMA--The district court here Wednesday acquitted a man charged with murdering his mother and two daughters for insurance money, citing a lack of evidence and doubting the credibility of his confession. Presiding Judge Keisuke Hosoda of the Hiroshima District Court said a "reasonable doubt" remains that Kuniharu Nakamura, 37, a former company employee in the city, committed the 2001 crime. "There is no evidence that he was present at the crime scene," the judge said. "And his confession also lacks credibility since it went through unnatural changes." After handing down the ruling, Hosoda said, "The suspect may not be completely free from suspicions, but we could not affirm that he was guilty." The ruling marks the third time since 1978 for a district court to acquit a suspect in a case in which prosecutors were seeking the death sentence, according to the Supreme Court. Nakamura was indicted on charges of murdering his mother, Sayoko, then 53, by strangling her at her home in the city's Nishi Ward past 3 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2001. He was also charged with setting fire to her home around 3:30 a.m. using kerosene. His two daughters, Ayaka, then 8, and Arisu, then 6, died in the blaze. Police questioned Nakamura for about a month, but were unable to come up with a suspect. The case took a sharp turn after Nakamura admitted to starting the fire in May last year after he was arrested over fraud allegations. He was accused of faking divorce papers so that his wife could receive welfare payments for child support. Nakamura told investigators he was aware his confession could lead to his death by capital punishment. But he retracted that confession after his murder-arson trial started in September last year. "I confessed because the questioning was overbearing," Nakamura said. In the final arguments of the defense, Nakamura contended that the real killer of his mother and children remained at large. Prosecutors argued in the trial that Nakamura committed the crime to receive 73 million yen ($673,121) in insurance benefits from the deaths of the three. But the court said it was highly unnatural for Nakamura to change from a man seeking the death penalty to commit suicide over his debts to a greedy man selfishly trying to obtain insurance money. The ruling also said prosecutors produced no evidence that Nakamura knew beforehand the contents of the insurance policies on his mother and children. The court said it cannot rule out the possibility that investigators forced the confession after finding no conclusive evidence, such as Nakamura knowing details of the crime that only the perpetrator could know. "We acquitted him because we strictly applied the principle of 'reasonable doubt' to this case to prevent a wrongful conviction," Judge Hosoda said.(IHT/Asahi: November 28,2007) ==========================================

Man acquitted of murdering mom, 2 daughters despite prosecutors demanding he hang Mainichi Shinbun

HIROSHIMA -- A 37-year-old man was acquitted Wednesday of murdering his mother and two daughters after a court ruled that his confessions were not reliable. The Hiroshima District Court found Kuniharu Nakamura, 37, a former company employee, not guilty.
"The confession (of the defendant) is questionable, and it lacks reliability in order for us to determine that he's the culprit," Presiding Judge Keisuke Hosoda said as he handed down the ruling. Nakamura's confession was the only key evidence in the murder case, and its reliability was the focus of the trial.

Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Nakamura, and they are set to appeal the ruling.
According to the indictment, Nakamura strangled his mother, Sayoko Nakamura, 53, a restaurant operator, at her home in Hiroshima at around 3 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2001. Nakamura then allegedly poured kerosene around the home and set the house ablaze, burning to death his daughters Ayaka, 8, and Arisu, 6.
Prosecutors also allege Nakamura swindled an insurance company out of a total of some 73 million yen in life insurance benefits he'd taken out on the three victims. In June last year, Nakamura was indicted on charges of fraud for illicitly receiving child-care allowances. Nakamura then filed a report with police that he strangled his mother and set her house ablaze, burning his two daughters to death.
Later, Nakamura confessed to the killings and the court adopted the confession papers as evidence in the case. However, Nakamura denied the facts presented in the indictment during the trial, and his lawyers maintained his innocence by saying, "His confession papers are the only evidence, which is unworthy of evidence."
There have been six court cases since 1978 in which prosecutors demanded the death penalty but the defendant was acquitted in the first trial, according to the Supreme Court.
Among them, four cases turned out to be false accusations, while in the other two cases the reliability of the defendants' report or confession was denied by the court.
Japanese Reportage
 広島市西区で01年、保険金目的で母と2人の娘を殺害したとして殺人や詐欺、現住建造物等放火罪などに問われ、1、2審で無罪とされた中村国治被 告(41)の上告審で、最高裁第1小法廷(金築誠志<かねつき・せいし>裁判長)は22日付で検察の上告を棄却する決定を出した。小法廷は「被告が犯人で ある疑いは濃いが、自白内容の不自然さは否定できない」と、異例ともいえる言及をした。無罪が確定する。

 検察の死刑求刑に対し1、2審が無罪としたのは78年以降、佐賀県北方町(現武雄市)の3女性連続殺人事件(87~89年)と、富山県高岡市の暴 力団組長夫妻殺害事件(00年)の2例が確認されているが、ともに2審で確定。検察が上告して最高裁で無罪が確定するのは初とみられる。

 中村被告は01年1月、実家で実母(当時53歳)を絞殺後に放火し長女(同8歳)と次女(同6歳)を焼死させ、3人の生命保険金など約7300万 円を詐取したとして起訴された。被告と犯行を結びつける物証はなく、唯一の証拠である捜査段階での自白の信用性が争われた。保険金目的の動機などを自白し たが、公判では「警察の取り調べに迎合した」と完全否認に転じ、1審・広島地裁と2審・同高裁は信用性を否定して無罪とした。



 ◇「無理な上告とは思えぬ」 検察幹部
 無罪確定について、ある法務・検察幹部は「きちんとした自白を得ても裁判所がちゃんと採用しなければ、こういう『灰色』の結果になる」と批判し た。別の幹部は「そもそも放火事件は証拠が焼けてしまって自白を中心に立証するしかないケースが多い。検察としては相当の覚悟をもって上告した事件で、無 理な上告とは思えない。最高裁も完全無罪と言っているわけではない」と強調した。
 ◇解説 無罪推定の原則鮮明に
 「被告が犯人である疑いが濃い」とまで言及しながら1、2審の無罪判断を支持した最高裁の決定は「下級審の事実認定を心証で覆してはならない」と いう立場に徹した形だ。同じ小法廷は13日、裁判員裁判で初の全面無罪となり2審が逆転有罪とした覚醒剤密輸事件を巡る判決で、「控訴審は事後審査に徹す べきだ」との初判断を示しており、無罪推定の原則を貫く姿勢を鮮明にしたといえる。
 「証拠に基づかず破綻している」とした2審判決に対し、検察は「健全な社会常識から被告が犯人だと優に認定できる」と異例の上告に及んだが、認め られなかった。山口県光市の母子殺害事件の第1次上告審判決が主張を認めて高裁に差し戻した後、死刑求刑事件の検察側上告は10回連続で退けられている。
毎日新聞 2012224日 2034分(最終更新 225日 005分)

 広島市西区で01年、保険金目的で母と2人の娘を殺害したとして殺人や現住建造物等放火などの罪に問われ、1審・広島地裁で無罪判決を受けた中村国治被告(39)の控訴審判決が14日、広島高裁であり、楢崎康英裁判長(現山口家裁所長)は「被告の犯行と認定するには合理的疑いが残るため、無罪とした原判決が相当」と1審判決を支持して、検察側の控訴を棄却した。最高裁などによると、78年以降で死刑求刑された裁判で1審(再審を除く)、控訴審と引き続き無罪になったのは3例目。  自白調書の信用性が最大の争点だった。判決では「『(放火時に)灯油をまいた』と自白しているのに、ズボンなどから油成分が検出されておらず、自白の信用性に疑問が生じる」として信用性を否定した。中村被告が実妹に宛てた犯行をほのめかす手紙が証拠採用されたが、「手紙などから自白への疑問が解消されるわけではない」と判断した。  検察側は妹への手紙について「犯人でなければ書けない心の動きが記されていて、自白の信用性を裏付ける」と主張。弁護側は自白調書について「信用性が格段に劣る」と無罪を主張していた。  中村被告は01年1月17日午前3時ごろ、母の小夜子さん(当時53歳)方で小夜子さんを絞殺し、さらに放火して2階で寝ていた長女彩華ちゃん(同8歳)と次女ありすちゃん(同6歳)を焼死させ、3人の生命保険金など約7300万円をだまし取ったとして起訴された。1審の広島地裁は「疑わしい事情は多くシロではなく灰色だが、クロとは断定できない」として無罪を言い渡した。  広島県警の永井覚刑事部長は「必要な捜査は尽くしたと考えている」、広島高検の津熊寅雄次席検事は「検察官の主張が認められず、遺憾だ。判決内容を検討して今後の対応を決めたい」とそれぞれコメントを出した。【寺岡俊】 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 無罪判決:広島の3人放火殺人で 「自白、信用性低い」 毎日新聞 広島市西区で01年1月、実母と実の娘2人が殺害された放火殺人事件で、殺人や現住建造物等放火などの罪に問われた元会社員、中村国治被告(37)=東広島市西条町寺家=の判決が28日、広島地裁であった。細田啓介裁判長は「被告が犯行を行ったと認定するには合理的な疑いが残り、犯人と認めるに足りない」などと、自白調書の信用性の低さを指摘し無罪(求刑死刑)を言い渡した。  自白調書しか有力な証拠がない放火殺人事件で、その信用性が争点となっていた。1審で死刑が求刑された被告が無罪になることは極めて異例で、検察側は控訴する方針。  中村被告は01年1月17日午前3時ごろ、母で飲食店経営の中村小夜子さん(当時53歳)方1階で、小夜子さんの首を絞めて殺害。さらに灯油をまいて火をつけ、2階で寝ていた中村被告の長女の彩華ちゃん(同8歳)と次女ありすちゃん(同6歳)を焼死させ、3人の死亡保険金など計約7300万円をだまし取ったとされていた。  中村被告は、06年6月、児童扶養手当を不正に受け取っていたとして詐欺罪で起訴された。その際、小夜子さんを絞殺したうえ灯油をまいて放火し、娘2人も焼死させたとする上申書を警察に提出。その後、中村被告は自白し、裁判所は自白調書を証拠採用したが、公判で起訴事実を否認。弁護側は「証拠は自白調書のみで証拠価値はない」と無罪を主張し、調書の信用性が争点となっていた。  最高裁によると、78年以降、1審(再審を除く)で死刑求刑されながら無罪判決が出たのは3件目という。【井上梢】 ========================= Presentence Report ☆2007年(平成19年)11月28日、広島地裁(細田啓介裁判長)で2001年、広島市で保険金目的で自分の母親と娘2人を殺害したとして、殺人や放火などの罪に問われ、死刑を求刑されている中村国治被告(37歳)に対する判決公判が開かれる予定。9月25日の公判で弁護側は最終弁論で「犯行の動機がなく、当日も現場にいなかった。自白の供述調書は任意性も信用性もない」として無罪を主張し結審した。起訴状によると、中村被告は2001年1月17日未明、広島市西区の自宅で就寝中の母親小夜子(53歳)の首を絞めて殺害。家に火を付け、長女彩華ちゃん(8歳)と二女ありすちゃん(6歳)も焼死させ、3人の死亡保険金など計約7300万円をだまし取った。