Man acquitted of arson-murder in bizarre case June 2, 2003 Mainichi Daily News

JIADEP NOTE: Defendant was later retried and found guilty

YOKOHAMA -- A man, who was arrested and indicted for setting fire to his girlfriend's home and killing her even though prosecutors earlier decided not to charge him over the case, was acquitted Monday. The Yokohama District Court found Kei Sasaki, 30, a former company employee, not guilty of setting fire to the apartment of Miho Iijima, 25, in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, and killing her in late 1993. "Even though there is a possibility that the defendant committed the crime, there are reasonable doubts about his guilt in the case," said Presiding Judge Hiroshi Yamura as he handed down the ruling. Prosecutors are considering whether to appeal the ruling to the Tokyo High Court. Monday's ruling came after the case went through an unprecedented process. The Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office, which once decided not to indict Sasaki over the case in June 1998, arrested and indicted him in February 2001 after the court determined in a civil suit that he committed the murder and arson. Since he was arrested, Sasaki has denied he committed the crime. "After we talked about breaking up, Iijima asked me to die with her. She then poured kerosene on the floor of her apartment, slashed her own neck and set fire to her home," he was quoted as telling investigators. The focal point at issue throughout the trial was whether evidence submitted by prosecutors was reliable. The presiding judge said statements made by Sasaki could not be trusted. "Statements made by the defendant are inconsistent and unreasonable, and cannot be fully trusted. Iijima had no motives to commit suicide. There is a possibility that the defendant stabbed Iijima and set fire to her apartment." At the same time, the judge dismissed an expert opinion submitted by prosecutors, which determined that Iijima, who was unable to move because of shock caused from massive bleeding, could not have set fire to her apartment on her own. "The opinion is inconsistent with that of a doctor who conducted an autopsy on the victim's body and the results of an on-the-spot investigation," he said. Presiding Judge Yamura concluded that there are reasonable doubts over whether Sasaki is guilty of the murder and arson. "It is impossible to determine whether the defendant acted alone in stabbing her, pouring the kerosene and lighting the fire, or if he forced Iijima to do that, or if the two cooperated in the process." Sasaki slashed Iijima in the neck at her apartment in Fujisawa on Dec. 14, 1993, poured kerosene on the floor of her room and torched it, the indictment said. The victim died from neck injuries and inhaling carbon monoxide, prosecutors claimed. In July 2000, the Yokohama District Court determined in a civil suit filed by Iijima's parents that Sasaki murdered the victim, and ordered him to pay 97 million yen in damages to the plaintiffs. The ruling prompted prosecutors, who once abandoned the case, to charge Sasaki. (Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, June 2, 2003) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Murder-arson ruling a shocker The Asahi Shimbun A man is freed even after a civil ruling says he killed his lover. YOKOHAMA-In a stunning decision, a man found to have killed his girlfriend by a civil court was pronounced not guilty of murder and arson on Monday in a criminal case. The Yokohama District Court verdict sends a shock wave through the legal system, where it is rare for criminal and civil rulings to differ on a case of such gravity. The parents of Miho Iijima, who died almost a decade ago at the age of 25, were visibly shaken by the ruling. ``My heart is filled with anger and despair,'' said Yoshio Iijima, 68, Miho's father. Miho, who worked at a jewelry store, was found dead on Dec. 14, 1993, after a fire gutted her apartment in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture. Her boyfriend, Kei Sasaki, 30, also from Fujisawa, claimed Miho tried to take both their lives by setting the room on fire with kerosene. She then stabbed herself in the neck, he said. The case was dropped in 1998 on lack of evidence. However, it was reopened after a civil court concluded that Sasaki stabbed Iijima and started the blaze. The civil court ruling, handed down by the Yokohama District Court in July 2000, ordered him to pay 97 million yen in damages. The decision was upheld by both the Tokyo High Court and the Supreme Court. Sasaki was arrested in February 2001 and indicted a month later-seven years after Iijima's death. It is also rare for a suspect to be charged after a case is dropped. Prosecutors argued that forensic evidence brought to light in the civil trial cast doubt on Sasaki's testimony. They said tests showed that Iijima had been stabbed and died from smoke inhalation. After reinvestigating the case, the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office was confident no one but Sasaki could have set fire to the apartment. Iijima's parents, meanwhile, still believe there is no way their daughter could have committed suicide. On Monday, Ikuko Iijima, 66, wore a gold chain that her daughter gave her. When the verdict was announced, she stared straight ahead without flinching. ``It felt like a dream when we heard the verdict,'' said her husband. ``It was so unexpected.'' He said he wants the prosecution to appeal. Added his wife: ``Today's result makes me wonder if the court trial system is working at all.'' The night before the fire, Miho's parents saw the couple negotiate their breakup. The father recalls Miho beaming as she declared, ``Tomorrow I'll be free!'' Miho was being physically abused by Sasaki, according to her parents. The criminal and civil rulings both acknowledged evidence of physical abuse. They also agreed that there was little reason for Iijima to take her own life or force Sasaki into a suicide pact, given her reaction to the breakup. Monday's ruling, however, highlights the differences between how criminal and civil courts determine the truth. The Tokyo High Court, in judging the civil appeal, relied heavily on Sasaki's motive after the breakup and his history of abusing Iijima. In a criminal court, on the other hand, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution to prove who committed the acts in question. One of the reasons the case has dragged on so long is that the prosecution has little concrete evidence-leaving the court to base its ruling on ``reasonable doubt'' the suspect committed the crimes. Sasaki's lawyer, Shiro Bando, said: ``We were suspicious of the prosecution's new forensic evidence. We thank the court for a thorough trial. It was a rational decision.'' Sasaki was released from custody on Monday.(IHT/Asahi: June 3,2003) (06/03) ////////////////////////////////////////// Suspect acquitted of '93 murder Yomiuri Shimbun The Yokohama District Court on Monday acquitted a man accused of murdering his girlfriend at her apartment and setting the apartment on fire in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, in December 1993, in a case that opened after prosecutors retracted an earlier decision not to indict him. In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Hiroshi Yamura said that Kei Sasaki, 30, was not guilty of killing Miho Iijima, 25, a jewelry store employee. Yamura said that although there was little cause for Iijima to have committed suicide and that there was also the probability that Sasaki had stabbed Iijima in the neck and set her apartment on fire, there was still room for reasonable doubt in the prosecutors' claims that he was the perpetrator. He said there was no proof that Sasaki had committed the crime. The Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office arrested Sasaki in February 2001 and indicted him for murder and arson. The prosecutors had demanded a life sentence. The Kanagawa prefectural police sent papers on the case to prosecutors in March 1995, after Iijima's parents filed a criminal complaint against him in February 1994. The prosecutors dropped the case in June 1998, citing insufficient proof, but later reinvestigated the case and indicted him after Yokohama District and Tokyo High court rulings in a damage suit filed by the parents in December 1996 held him responsible for murder and arson. During the court hearing, the major argument focused on the fact that Iijima died in her room when only Sasaki was with her. Iijima was found dead in her room on Dec. 14, 1993 with a stab wound to the neck. The room was scorched by a fire that was apparently deliberately set. Police found kerosene around her body. Based on an outside forensic investigation report, the prosecutors claimed, "The fire started about an hour after Iijima was stabbed and she died of heart failure due to blood loss and from inhaling smoke from the fire." They concluded, "It was impossible for Miho (Iijima) herself to set the place on fire given that she was unable to move due to blood loss, and thus the only possibility is that Sasaki is responsible for the crime." Yamura rejected the claim, saying, "(The prosecutors') examination of the documents they referred to is insufficient." He judged that it was impossible to rule out the possibility that the wound was self-inflicted, citing the angle of the stab wound. In court, Sasaki pleaded not guilty and claimed that Iijima forced him into a suicide pact, spread kerosene on the floor and stabbed her neck herself. The defense also objected to the prosecutors' claims, saying that the results of the forensic report were a "fabrication" that simply backed up their assertions. The forensic doctor who conducted the autopsy said it was possible that Iijima had killed herself. "The stab wound is shallow, compared with those found in murders," the doctor said. "It shouldn't have been the direct cause of death. She must have been burned to death." === Ruling frustrates parents Sasaki bowed slightly to Yamura when his acquittal was announced, while Iijima's parents, sitting in the front row of the court gallery seemed to be seething with frustration at the ruling. Her father, Yoshio, 68, grimaced, while her mother, Ikuko, 66, tightened her hold on her handbag as the decision was announced. "My sorrow goes around and around in my mind and it never ends," Yoshio said at a press conference later the same day. "I was just stunned (at the ruling)," Ikuko said. According to her parents, Iijima began living with Sasaki about a year before she died. She decided to break up with him because of his violent behavior. 2003 The Yomiuri Shimbun ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Man acquitted of murdering girlfriend Reasonable doubt clouds 'probability' of defendant's guilt, says judge YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) The Yokohama District Court on Monday cleared a 30-year-old man of murdering his girlfriend at her apartment in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, in December 1993. Yoshio Iijima and his wife, Ikuko, talk to reporters after the Yokohama District Court cleared their daughter's ex-boyfriend of their daughter's 1993 murder. Presiding Judge Hiroshi Yamura said that while the accused, Kei Sasaki, had a motive to kill and it was "probable" that he had committed the crime, there is also "reasonable doubt" over his guilt. The 10-year-old case was reopened in 2001 after the same district court, in its ruling on a damages suit filed by parents of the deceased, 25-year-old Miho Iijima, determined that 30-year-old Sasaki stabbed the woman and set her apartment on fire. Sasaki was arrested in February 2001 and the Yokohama District Public Prosecutor's Office demanded a life term for murder and arson. Prosecutors charged that Sasaki slashed the throat of Iijima, who was a jewelry store employee, and set her apartment on fire by spreading kerosene at the flat on Dec. 14, 1993. According to the indictment, Iijima had died of heart failure due to her neck wound and from inhaling carbon monoxide from the fire. Sasaki had pleaded not guilty, claiming that Iijima tried to force him to participate in a suicide pact. He argued that Iijima, after spreading kerosene in her flat and setting it alight, slashed her own neck with a kitchen knife. In handing down the ruling, Judge Yamura questioned the credibility of Sasaki's account, stating that it was also probable that he killed the woman and set the place afire. But the judge ruled that there is still room for doubt as to his guilt. The court also cast doubt on the credibility of the prosecution's version of events at Iijima's apartment before her death. In reopening the case, prosecutors commissioned medical experts to examine Iijima's body organ samples preserved by authorities in a bid to re-enact the events that led to her death, maintaining that the stab wound to her neck was inflicted before the room was set afire. They then claimed it was impossible for Iijima to have started the fire, given that she was in such a weakened state due to the loss of blood from her neck wound. The judge stated that the experts' analysis contradicts some points of the autopsy report, as well as testimony provided by those involved in examining the scene of the incident. The court ruled that Sasaki had repeatedly beaten Iijima after they started living together at the apartment. On a number of occasions, he urged her to commit suicide with him, telling her she should die first, according to the ruling. Iijima had told a friend that she could no longer put up with her partner's violence and was planning to break up with him, the court said. Given these circumstances, Iijima had little motive to commit suicide, while Sasaki had a motive to harm her and set the apartment on fire, the judge stated. Yet the judge concluded that the evidence available in the case is insufficient in terms of determining what actually happened at the apartment. The Japan Times: June 3, 2003 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 20030602 藤沢女性殺人: 無罪判決の元会社員釈放 「道義的責任感じる」 ------------------------------------------------------------------------  神奈川県藤沢市のアパート火災で洋装品店員の飯島美穂さん(当時25歳)が遺体で見つかった事件で殺人罪などに問われ、2日午前、横浜地裁で無罪判決を受けた元会社員、佐々木慶被告(30)は同日午後、横浜市の横浜拘置支所から釈放された。  無罪判決で拘置が失効したためで、弁護人によると、被告は「ほっとしている。美穂さんが自殺したことについて一定の道義的責任を感じていることは今も変わりはない。そっとしておいてほしい」と話したという。  判決は「飯島さんの自殺ではあり得ない」という検察側鑑定の信用性に疑問を投げかけ「被告と飯島さんのどちらが放火などを実行したのか確定できない」と判断した。検察側は控訴を検討している。【馬場理沙】 [毎日新聞6月2日] ( 2003 20030602 藤沢女性殺人: 民事「殺人」が一転無罪 真実はいったい ------------------------------------------------------------------------  民事裁判で「殺人」と認定された被告に刑事裁判では一転、「無罪」が言い渡された。93年、神奈川県藤沢市のアパート火災で洋装店員、飯島美穂さん(当時25歳)が遺体で見つかった事件。横浜地裁は2日、被告が美穂さんを殺害した可能性を指摘しながら「他殺とするには疑いが残る」と結論した。愛娘を突然、失ってから約9年半。「怒りと悲しみが頭の中を駆けめぐって……」。二つの司法判断の断絶は両親の無念を一層、深めた。【鮎川耕史、馬場理沙】  午前10時過ぎ、横浜地裁101号法廷。矢村宏裁判長が「被告人は無罪」と主文を読み上げると、緑色ポロシャツ姿の佐々木慶被告(30)は天井を見上げ、そして大きくうなずいた。一方、その瞬間、傍聴席にいた美穂さんの母郁子さん(66)は佐々木被告にちらりと目をやったが、手にしたベージュ色のハンカチを口元に当てながらせき込んだ。並んで座る父良雄さん(68)は身を硬くして動かず、目をつむったまま判決理由に聴き入った。  良雄さんは、美穂さんが眠る霊園に出かけるのが日課だ。車を止め、車内で読書し、音楽を聴く。「美穂と一緒に時を過ごしているような気がする」から。  93年12月14日午後、良雄さんは勤め先で藤沢北署から知らせを受けた。「娘さんとみられる焼死体が見つかりました」。どうやって署にたどり着いたのか、思い出せない。その日朝、自宅近くの駅まで車で送ってくれた美穂さんは笑顔で手を振っていた。「前日に佐々木被告との別れ話がまとまり美穂は喜んでいた」と良雄さんは振り返る。郁子さんも美穂さんが「これで自由になれる」と話したのを覚えている。だから「あの美穂が自殺や心中など考えるはずはない」。両親の確信は揺るがない。  佐々木被告は事件直後から「美穂さんが心中を言い出し、自殺した」と主張し続けた。捜査員が事情聴取のため両親を訪ねたのは事件からひと月以上たった94年1月下旬。その後、地検から「立件は難しい」と連絡を受けた。すがるような思いで、佐々木被告に対する損害賠償訴訟に踏み切った。96年12月。民事の時効直前だった。途中で佐々木被告は不起訴処分になったが、民事の1審判決は「飯島さんは被告と別れようと決心していた。自殺の動機に乏しい」と指摘。それが地検を再捜査へと突き動かしたのだが――  判決後、良雄さんと郁子さんは横浜市内で記者会見した。良雄さんは「主文を聞いて、一瞬夢を見ているのではないかと思った」と無念を語った。さらに「怒りと悲しみが頭の中を駆け巡って、今でも続いている」とうつむき加減だ。郁子さんは「判決にはびっくりした」と切り出した。「佐々木被告はうそを言っているのに、裁判で通ってしまって、うそであっても認められてしまうのだなと感じた。民事裁判と刑事裁判の進み方(結果)の違いに納得が出来ない」と話した。  ▽横浜地検の鈴木和宏次席検事の話 主張がいれられず、大変残念に思っている。早急に判決書の内容を検討し、上級庁とも協議した上で控訴の要否を決定したい。  ▽被告側の坂東司朗弁護士の話 無罪は当然。慎重に審理していただいた裁判所に感謝している。検察側の鑑定書は佐々木犯人説に立って組み立てられていた。これこそ冤罪(えんざい)の構図だ。 [毎日新聞6月2日] ( 2003-06-02-13:00 ) 20030602 藤沢女性殺人: 元交際相手に無罪判決 横浜地裁 ------------------------------------------------------------------------  神奈川県藤沢市のアパート火災(93年)で洋装店員の飯島美穂さん(当時25歳)が遺体で見つかった事件で、横浜地裁は2日、当時の交際相手で殺人と現住建造物放火の罪に問われた元会社員、佐々木慶(けい)被告(30)に、無罪(求刑・無期懲役)を言い渡した。矢村宏裁判長は「被告の犯行である可能性はあるが、そう認定するにはなお合理的疑いが残る」と述べた。いったん不起訴処分にした横浜地検が、民事裁判で殺人事件と認定されたのを受け再捜査、逮捕・起訴に踏み切る異例の経緯をたどった末、民事と異なる司法判断となった。検察側は控訴を検討する。  被告は捜査段階から「別れ話の後、一緒に死のうと言い出した飯島さんが灯油をまいて自分で首を刺し、火をつけた」と無実を訴え、起訴事実を支える検察側鑑定の信用性が争点になった。  判決は「被告の供述は不自然、不合理な点が多く信用性は低い。美穂さんには自殺の動機が乏しく、被告が飯島さんを刺し、放火した蓋然性(がいぜんせい)が認められる」と述べた。だがその一方で「飯島さんは出血性ショックで動けず、自ら放火するのは不可能」といった検察側鑑定を「司法解剖の所見や実況見分と矛盾する」と疑問視した。  このため「首を刺す、灯油をまく、放火するという行為の前後を決められないばかりか、全行為を被告がしたのか、被告が強要するなどして飯島さんがしたのか、分担したのかを確定するのも不可能。被告を殺人・放火の犯人と認定するには合理的疑いが残る」と結論づけた。  起訴状では、佐々木被告は93年12月14日、藤沢市亀井野のアパート2階の飯島さん方で、飯島さんを殺そうと首を包丁で刺し、室内に灯油をまいて放火、首の血管損傷と一酸化炭素吸引による急性心不全で死亡させたとされた。  飯島さんの両親が佐々木被告を訴えた民事裁判で横浜地裁は00年、被告による殺害を認定して約9700万円の賠償を命じ、その後、確定している。【鮎川耕史】  ■事件後の主な経緯 神奈川県警は、飯島さんの両親の告訴を受けて95年3月、佐々木被告を殺人などの容疑で書類送検。横浜地検は98年6月、嫌疑不十分で不起訴にした。だが両親が起こした損害賠償訴訟で横浜地裁は00年7月、被告による殺害と放火を認定。これを受けて横浜地検は再捜査し01年2月、佐々木被告を逮捕、翌月起訴した。 [毎日新聞6月2日] ( 2003-06-02-12:55 ) ////////////