KATHMANDU, June 8: Govinda Prasad Mainali, who was serving a life sentence in a Japanese jail in a high-profile murder case 15 years ago, walked a free man after the Tokyo High Court ordered a retrial Thursday.
Presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa based his ruling on new DNA testing which suggests that Mainali, who was serving life for murdering 39-year-old Yasuko Watanabe, a female employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) in 1997, may be innocent.
“The verdict stated that he would likely not have been found guilty if the test results had been submitted to the court back then,” advocate Balaram Shrestha, who practices law in Japan, said over the phone from Tokyo.
The court suspended the life sentence and granted Mainali release from jail after turning down prosecutors who tried twice to register an appeal against his release–first with Bench No 4 and then with Bench No 5.
“I am very happy following the retrial verdict. This is as good as winning the case,” Mainali´s wife Radhika, who had reached Tokyo along with their two daughters in anticipation of a favorable verdict, said over the phone. “I pray that no one else should have to go through all that we have suffered,” she added.
Mainali has been sent to an immigration facility in Yokohama following the verdict as he was first arrested in Japan back in 1997 for overstaying his visa. Advocate Shrestha said the Immigration Bureau will now either deport him to Nepal or grant him an exit permit to leave Japan.
Radhika, who is in now Japan for the 10th time to seek justice for her husband, disclosed that she had gone to meet her husband at the prison on Wednesday.
The prison authorities, who would not normally allow her to meet him for more than 15 minutes allowed her to talk with him for 45 minutes this time, she said.
“He asked me to not worry and assured me that the verdict would go in our favor. He said he would hopefully return to Nepal along with us,” she disclosed.
She will go to meet her husband at the immigration facility on Friday.
Dr Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, president of Inhured International, who has been following the case since Mainali´s first arrested in 1997, called the re-trial verdict a landmark decision for migrant workers throughout the world.
“The Japanese judiciary is very conservative and does not order a retrial unless there is sufficient evidence to suggest the innocence of the convict,” Dr Siwakoti said.
Japanese media said that this is the only retrial after World War II for convicts sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
Dr Siwakoti reasoned that the fact that the court did not ask Mainali not to leave Japan and that Nepal does not have an extradition treaty with Japan show that the court feels he is innocent and could not by any chance have committed the murder.
“The fact that the trial (district) court had first acquitted him in a country which has a conviction rate of 99 percent shows he is innocent. The Japanese judiciary knew that he was innocent all along but was trying to stop a retrial to salvage their collective reputation,” he stated, adding that a due compensation process would soon follow after Thursday´s verdict.
Govinda Mainali, who left Nepal for Japan in 1994, worked as a waiter in Tokyo until police arrested him in March 1997. He was first held on the charge of overstaying and then on the charge of murdering Watanabe, who moonlighted as a prostitute and was killed on March 8, 1997.
Tokyo District Court found him not guilty in April, 2000. But the prosecution, presenting selective evidence, appealed at Tokyo High Court, which found him guilty and jailed him for life on circumstantial evidence, deeming that a third party could not conceivably have entered the murder victim´s room.
Tokyo High Court ordered a re-examination of evidence last year following a request for retrial as two crucial pieces of evidence, which were evidently not presented by the prosecution back then, had emerged.
DNA tests in July, 2011 showed that a semen sample collected from the woman´s body was not Mainali´s and instead matched a body hair sample found in the room where the woman´s body was found, suggesting the presence of another man at the time of the murder. Then came the revelation later in the year that the blood group of saliva traces found on Watanabe´s breast does not match that of Mainali. The saliva blood type is O, while his is B.
by PREM DHAKAL from Republica