A Nepalese man handed a life sentence for a murder he says he did not commit has finally won a retrial after spending 15 years behind bars.
The Tokyo High Court announced June 7 that Govinda Prasad Mainali, 45, will get another chance to prove his innocence.
Mainali, 45, was convicted in 2000 of killing the woman, an employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. The murder, which included robbery, occurred in March 1997.
The Tokyo High Court ordered a retrial because of DNA evidence that suggested a different man may have been present at the time of the murder.
Presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa said: “From the results of new DNA analysis, a suspicion emerged that a man other than the former defendant (Mainali) killed the victim.”
The court also ordered the suspension of Mainali’s sentence under the Criminal Procedure Law, prompting prosecutors to order his immediate release from Yokohama Prison.
Mainali, who was earlier found guilty of illegally staying in Japan, was transported to an immigration facility in the evening. He will be detained while deportation procedures are brought against him.
Prosecutors filed an objection to the retrial order. They have requested that the case be heard by a different division of the Tokyo High Court than the one that delivered the retrial ruling.
One of Mainali’s defense lawyers delivered news of the retrial to him in Yokohama Prison.
According to the lawyer, he said he is very happy to meet a judge who can understand his innocence. He said he wants to return to Nepal as quickly as possible to see his ailing mother. He said he cannot recapture the past 15 years and hopes that prosecutors will not extend that time already lost to him.
The 39-year-old victim in the case was slain in an apartment in the Maruyamacho district of Tokyo's Shibuya Ward in March 1997. Strangulation marks were found on her neck and about 40,000 yen ($500) in cash was stolen.
Mainali, who was living in a condominium next to the apartment building, was first arrested for illegally staying in Japan but, immediately after being found guilty on that charge, was arrested in connection with the woman’s murder.
According to the June 7 decision, the DNA of body hair found in the empty room of the apartment where the woman was killed matched the DNA of semen taken from inside her body, but the DNA was not Mainali’s.
The unknown man’s DNA was detected on the victim’s lower abdomen, right breast, on the underwear she was wearing, and in a bloodstain on the left shoulder of her coat.
“Those results are showing a possibility that a third person, a male, had sexual intercourse with the victim on the spot,” the court found.
As the woman had sexual relations with many men, prosecutors claimed that there is a possibility that the body hair found in the apartment was brought there from elsewhere after becoming attached to the woman’s body.
The Tokyo High Court’s decision says: “We cannot say that there is no such possibility, but it is more natural to see that she had sexual intercourse with a third person on the spot.”
The court said that interpretation of the evidence raised doubts about circumstantial evidence that led to Mainali’s sentence of life imprisonment.
“The results of the DNA analysis represent new evidence that must make him innocent. If the evidence had been presented to the appeal trial at the High Court, he would have been found not guilty (in the ruling in December 2000),” the court concluded.
Mainali has always maintained his innocence and was found not guilty at his first trial in April 2000. At the time, the Tokyo District Court said: “There are many facts that cannot be explained if Mainali was the perpetrator.”
In December 2000, however, the Tokyo High Court sentenced him to life imprisonment. That verdict was based on circumstantial evidence, including the presence of his DNA in semen inside a condom found in the toilet of the apartment.
The Supreme Court turned down his appeal in October 2003, finalizing his life imprisonment. Mainali subsequently requested a retrial.
Members of Mainali’s family, who are visiting Japan, welcomed the decision. His wife, Radha, embraced her two daughters.
She said her husband can finally walk free after spending 15 years in prison.
Mainali’s 20-year-old daughter, Mithila, said she wants to express her gratitude to the many people who gave their support.
His 18-year-old daughter, Alisha, said she is happy because she can finally walk with her father or go to dinner with him.
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