CORRECTED: UPDATE1: Man once sentenced to death cleared of murder-arson charges.
The Osaka District Court on Thursday acquitted a man previously sentenced to death for killing his daughter-in-law and her son and setting fire to their apartment in Osaka in 2002.
A three-judge panel of the court handed down the ruling after the Supreme Court in April 2010 repealed a high court decision sentencing the defendant, Takemitsu Mori, 54, to death and ordered a retrial.
It is the first time since 1990 that a defendant previously sentenced to death in a high court ruling has subsequently been found not guilty in a retrial ordered by the Supreme Court.
During both the original trial and retrial, defendant Mori pleaded not guilty, saying he had never entered the apartment of the woman and her son on the day of the alleged murders and arson. On Thursday, the district court ruled there was no evidence to prove he entered the apartment that day.
Mori was arrested in November 2002, seven months after the victims -- Mayumi Mori, 28, and her 1-year-old son Toma -- were found dead in their apartment in Osaka's Hirano Ward on April 14 that year. Mori was also accused of setting fire to the apartment.
In the original trial, the Osaka District Court found Mori guilty and sentenced him in August 2005 to life imprisonment. The Osaka High Court subsequently revoked the district court decision and sentenced Mori to death in December 2006 as sought by prosecutors.
The focal point of the retrial was whether circumstantial evidence presented by prosecutors was sufficient to find him guilty.
In Thursday's ruling, Presiding Judge Kazuo Mizushima said there was no evidence that proved the defendant had entered the apartment that day and added it was doubtful Mori had ever visited the apartment.
At the time of the crimes, Mori was working as a guard at Osaka Prison and was married to Mayumi's mother-in-law. They later divorced. He has been on leave from his job since his indictment.
During the investigation, police collected 72 cigarette butts from a staircase at the apartment and found that saliva on one of them matched Mori's DNA type.
In Thursday's decision, Mizushima said the victim might have thrown away the cigarette butts and it was difficult to conclude from that one piece of evidence that the defendant had visited the apartment on the day of the crimes.
Mizushima brushed aside new test results presented by prosecutors regarding the color change of the cigarette butt, saying the results were not based on experts' advice and scientific knowledge. The judge also criticized the police for having disposed of the other 71 cigarette butts.
During the original trials at the district and high courts, prosecutors presented circumstantial evidence to suggest Mori's involvement in the case because of the absence of direct evidence linking him to the crimes.
Tadafumi Oshima, deputy chief prosecutor at the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office, said it is regrettable the prosecutors' arguments had not been accepted.
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|Publication:||Japan Weekly Monitor|
|Date:||Mar 19, 2012|
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