JIADEP NOTE: This case formed the storyline for the acclaimed movie "I just didn't do it."
Seibu Shinjuku Case: Man acquitted of groping wants to regain 2½ years lost
The Asahi Shimbun
Time stopped on the morning of Oct. 22, 2003, for a family man. As he was leaving a crowded commuter train in Tokyo, a schoolgirl grabbed his hand and accused him of groping her.
On Wednesday, the Tokyo High Court exonerated the man. But the 2½ years since the accusation was first lodged have taken their toll on the man and his family.
The 43-year-old in Tokyo's Nakano Ward has lost his job, income and lifestyle, and was forced to live as a person branded a chikan (groper). His constant claims of innocence were ignored by seemingly everyone except for his wife, who suffered bouts of stress during the ordeal.
Finally, the Tokyo High Court confirmed what he had saying all along. He never molested the girl and police made no efforts to thoroughly investigate the case.
The high court overturned the Tokyo District Court's conviction and suspended sentence imposed on the man.
"There is no doubt the student was the victim of a groper, but her testimony is not sufficient to convict the defendant," Presiding Judge Kunio Harada said in his ruling.
Harada also cited sloppiness in the work of the investigators, and said they might have even misled the victim into believing the man was the culprit.
"This is a case that would not have ordinarily led to an indictment," the judge said.
The man wiped away the stream of tears that flowed upon hearing the not guilty ruling.
He had been waiting for so long to hear those words.
On Oct. 22, 2003, the man was riding in a crowded train on the Seibu Shinjuku Line. As he stepped onto the platform at Takadanobaba Station, the 16-year-old senior high school student stood in his way and yelled, "You've kept touching me!"
She said he had slipped his hand inside her underwear on the train.
He denied it, but went with her to the train station office to explain there must have been a misunderstanding.
But he was taken to a police station in a squad car where detectives badgered him to "tell the truth."
He insisted he was standing behind the schoolgirl on her right side and that another man, who appeared to be a foreigner, was behind him on the left side, and that he could have been responsible.
The police didn't believe him. They held him in detention for 105 days, and he was indicted on an indecency charge.
"If police had properly investigated, things wouldn't have turned out the way they did," the man said. "Police could have tested whether there was evidence on my hand. But I was made a criminal without even doing the test."
A police officer even testified that such tests are usually done on suspected gropers to collect evidence, but the test was not conducted in the man's case.
The prosecution's case was based largely on police arguments that the other man on the train could not have reached the victim.
The Tokyo District Court found him guilty.
The man had taken a long leave of absence from a printing company he had worked for 24 years to deal with his legal problems. He has yet to return to the company.
He dug into his savings to pay for bail and cover his living expenses and legal costs. He had to sell off most of his collection of about 200 T-shirts, a hobby of his for more than 25 years.
His son, born in the sixth year of his marriage, was only 2 years old at the time. The man had kept a daily log of his son's developments, but that stopped after that train ride on the Seibu Shinjuku Line.
Desperate for money, the man started to help his father's gardening business, but he injured himself in a fall from a wall. Since then, he has relied on social welfare.
He said the only thing that kept him going was his wife, who believed in his innocence.
Immediately after the high court ruling, he called his wife with the news.
"I want to regain the time that we lost," he said.(IHT/Asahi: March 9,2006)