Photo/IllutrationThe plaintiff's attorneys walk into the Fukuoka High Court in Fukuoka’s Chuo Ward on Feb. 6 for the hearing of the appeal for the request of a retrial of the Iizuka case. (Mahito Kaai)

FUKUOKA--The Fukuoka High Court on Feb. 6 rejected a bereaved wife’s request for a retrial for her husband who was executed in 2008 for the 1992 murder of two young girls in Fukuoka Prefecture.

In refusing the request, the high court upheld Fukuoka District Court’s 2014 decision to prevent a retrial for the late Michitoshi Kuma.

The high court said the district court’s decision had “no irrational point, and can be sustained as a justifiable one,” and that it is “appropriate to recognize (Kuma) as the culprit.”

The woman’s attorneys now plan to make an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court on her behalf.

The incident, widely known as the Iizuka case, occurred in the prefecture in February 1992. Two first-grade elementary schoolgirls went missing in Iizuka city on their way to school, and their bodies were found on a mountain in Amagi city, currently part of Asakura city, about 20 kilometers from where they had disappeared. Kuma was arrested and indicted for murder and other related charges in 1994. He consistently protested his innocence throughout the investigation and trial, but the Fukuoka district court found him guilty and sentenced him to death in 1999.

The sentence was finalized in the Supreme Court in 2006, and Kuma was executed aged 70 in 2008. His wife filed the original request for a retrial in 2009 which was denied in 2014, and her lawyers filed an immediate appeal to the high court.

The validity of some of the evidence was contested in the retrial request, including the witness testimony of a car’s presence near the site where the victims’ belongings were found, DNA test results and blood type test results.

The attorneys have maintained that the witness was asked leading questions by police as the man’s testimony changed and that police knew the type of car that Kuma owned.

The high court pointed out, based on the circumstances of that time, that it “cannot be deemed that (those points) indicate the witness testimony was led by police,” and that “the credibility of the witness testimony still stands.”

The DNA testing in the Iizuka case was conducted using the same method as in the highly publicized 1990 Ashikaga case, in which the convict imprisoned for life was found not guilty on retrial in 2010, around the same time and by the same body, the National Police Agency’s National Research Institute of Police Science.

The high court rejected the claim by Kuma’s widow’s attorneys that “the DNA identification of the time has no credibility.” It also endorsed the blood type test, which was also conducted by the research institute, saying “the technical officer’s testimony is trustworthy, and cannot be deemed to be irrational.”

In the Ashikaga case, misidentification was proved by retesting DNA samples, but in the Iizuka case, no DNA samples were kept to make comparisons with, and so a retest could not be conducted.

The main argument in the petition lodged by the lawyers for Kuma’s widow contested the DNA evidence in the Iizuka case as unreliable. In its ruling, the district court even admitted that “the evidentiary value (of the DNA test result) must be assessed more carefully than the time of the initial trial.”

The district court placed less emphasis on the DNA than other forms of evidence, which it said was comprehensively evaluated, and concluded that guilt had been “proven at an advanced level” in the first trial.