Justice given to man after 30-year battle to clear name (update)

2018/08/08 16:20:03 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Su Ping-kun (蘇炳坤, front)

Su Ping-kun (蘇炳坤, front)

Taipei, Aug. 8 (CNA) The Taiwan High Court has overturned a 1987 attempted murder conviction, the first time a victim of a miscarriage of justice who has been granted amnesty has ultimately had his name cleared.

The panel of three judges on Wednesday ruled 69-year-old Su Ping-kun (蘇炳坤) not guilty during a retrial of his case, in which he was convicted and given a 15-year jail sentence for the robbery of a jewelry store and attempted murder in Hsinchu on March 23, 1986.

After reading the judgment in the court, presiding judge Chou Ying-wen (周盈文) expressed sympathy for Su's ordeal, telling him that the wrongs done to him and his sufferings are lessons that the judicial system must learn from.

"Thank you all, judges," Su said as he bowed to the judges after the judgment was read to him.

Speaking to reporters outside the court after hearing the verdict, Su, flanked by his wife, children and grandchildren, said he was grateful to the many people who helped him along the way but admitted that the ruling was not completely satisfying.

"I have been wronged for 32 years. I should have been happy about the non-guilty verdict, but I'm not," Su said. "Honestly speaking, it's been too long in coming."

Su has insisted on his innocence since he was arrested at his home on June 19, 1986, saying he was framed by Kuo Chung-hsiung (郭中雄), another convict sentenced to 16 years in the same case.

Su's conviction has been called into question ever since because of concerns that it was based solely on Kuo's confession without sufficient evidence.

Kuo has admitted that he named Su -- at the time a furniture factory owner who employed Kuo -- as an accomplice out of spite because Su owed him back wages. Also, both Su and Kuo have accused police of using torture to extract confessions.

Su went into hiding in Taiwan for years under the protection of a prosecutor before he was arrested in 1997.

He then served two years and nine months in prison before he was granted a special amnesty in 2000 by then president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) following a Control Yuan report on the highly questionable case.

Many attempts were made on Su's behalf to have his case reconsidered.

Two prosecutors-general filed a total of four extraordinary appeals against his conviction from 1992 to 1998, but they were not accepted.

Four requests for a retrial filed by heads of the Supreme Prosecutors Office from 1987 to 1996 were also rejected.

But with the help of the Legal Aid Foundation, Taiwan Association for Human Rights, and Taiwan Innocence Project, Su finally got the Taiwan High Court to consider the case in May 2017.

The High Court then held preliminary hearings in July and August before deciding in September to retry the case.

Chou said the retrial uncovered serious mistakes made by the police, prosecutors and judges involved in the case back then that resulted in the wrongful conviction.

There was no evidence of Su's involvement, but the police were eager to crack the case and resorted to forced confessions, the prosecutors were negligent in the investigation, and the judges did not follow the principle of innocent until proven guilty, Chou said.

Asked by CNA to comment on the significance of the retrial, panel judge Lin Meng-huang (林孟皇) said he really wanted to apologize to Su on behalf of the judicial system but didn't because the panel had already done so.

"We should have acted earlier to redress the injustice that has forced you to suffer for decades," Lin said. "But justice did not come until today."

Lin said he hoped the case can serve as a lesson for law enforcement that they should always exercise caution and have empathy for those being interrogated or put on trial because their exercise of power could deprive a person of their life, liberty, or property.

If mistakes are made in the process, authorities should try to correct them quickly to avoid the possibility of consigning a person to a lifetime of suffering because of a wrongful conviction, Lin said.

The preliminary hearing for Su held on August 27, 2017 also set a precedent as the proceedings were accessible to reporters, who were allowed to take photos or make video or audio recordings in the courtroom to enhance public understanding of the rule of law.

The same rule was applied to Wednesday's court hearing at which Su's acquittal was announced.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan, Wang Yang-yu and Hsiao Po-wen)
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