Former policeman off hook in murder case

JAPAN - The case against a former police officer arrested on suspicion of killing an elderly couple and setting fire to their home in Toyama in April 2010 was dropped due to insufficient evidence, the Toyama District Public Prosecutors Office has announced.

According to the announcement, made Wednesday: "The statement [by former suspect Takeshi Kano] was doubtful, and there was no direct evidence that connected the suspect with the murder. There was reasonable doubt in naming [him] as a perpetrator."

Kano, a 54-year-old former assistant police inspector of the Toyama prefectural police, reportedly told police at the time of his arrest in December 2012 on suspicion of murder that he committed the crime by strangling the couple with rope.

However, his statement was inconsistent with the condition of the bodies of the victims, Saburo Fukuda, 79, and his wife Nobuko, 75, according to forensic experts. The positions of the victims' bodies were also different from the crime scene that was recreated based on Kano's statement.

Kano's account of what happened before and after the crime was also unsupported by other evidence. No images of him were captured on security cameras on the route he told the investigators he took.

The former police officer's purported motivation was also unconvincing, prosecutors said. Kano reportedly said he committed the murder out of resentment that had "built up over 30 years" of association with the victims. "[The couple] disrespected my father," who died in 2005, he said. However, "It was difficult to accept these motives as reasons for committing murder," said a senior official of the district prosecutors office.

After being held for expert examination and then released in May without indictment after his detention period ended, Kano reversed his statement, saying, "I'm not sure if I did [the crime] or not."

A confession Kano made on a document on a CD, which he apparently sent to Shukan Bunshun magazine, also contradicted other evidence.

Ichiro Inoue, deputy chief prosecutor at the district prosecutors office, said: "We couldn't overcome the contradictions, despite our thorough investigation. We'll continue our investigation, including considering the possibility of another suspect."

Investigation too lax?

The case took an unusual turn when the suspect was detained for expert examination for as long as four months, then released without indictment.

Although the prosecutors and the prefectural police said they thoroughly investigated the case, there are concerns that the initial probe before the arrest may have been too lax.

As the investigation is back to square one, the family of the victims described the case as a "string of disappointments."

Inoue announced at 2 p.m. that Kano was free from prosecution, saying, "We had no choice but to conclude that there is not enough evidence [to indict Kano]."

The expert examination concluded that Kano could be held responsible for the crime. Prosecutors continued to investigate Kano after he was released without indictment in May. However, they were aware of contradictions in his statements even at that time.

"We sensed problems from the beginning," Inoue said. We resolved some of them, but others only increased our doubt."

Inoue strongly rejected the claim that the investigation was lenient because the suspect was a police officer. "That [he] was a police officer didn't matter," he said.

Inoue apologised to the families of the victims, saying, "We're very sorry."

Takashi Nishida, head of criminal investigations at the Toyama prefectural police, said at a press conference at its headquarters Wednesday: "I believe the investigation was conducted properly, as [Kano] admitted to committing the crime at the time of his arrest. We also corroborated his admission with evidence."

This remark, however, was made moot by the announcement by the district prosecutors' office that the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence to support statements made by Kano and others.

The CD sent to Shukan Bunshun magazine containing Kano's confession, which had been seen as decisive evidence in Kano's arrest, was later proved to contradict Kano's statement. The document had apparently been updated while Kano was on duty.

"We were aware [of the contradictions], but we thought we could clear them up, since [Kano] confessed to the crime," Nishida said. "Based on the result, we can't help but be criticised for having misjudged."

"My impression is that the initial investigation was insufficient," said lawyer Norio Munakata, who served as a manager of the special investigation department of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office. "It's questionable whether the investigators examined the confession thoroughly and collected enough evidence to support the statement. The investigation as a whole betrayed the public's trust."