It is long past time to put an end to the farce that is the Hsichih Trio case. While some might say it is wrong to comment on a case still before the courts, the nation’s judiciary has proven itself incapable of rectifying this massive miscarriage of justice.
On April 21, the Supreme Court overturned the Taiwan High Court ruling from November last year that Su Chien-ho (蘇建和), Liu Bin-lang (劉秉郎) and Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) were not guilty of the March 1991 robbery and murder of Wu Min-han (吳銘漢) and Yeh Ying-lan (葉盈蘭). It cited what it said were contradictory accounts and issues needing further investigation.
These issues include the police denials that the defendants were tortured, the conflicts in the confessions of the trio and Wang Wen-hsiao (王文孝) — who was tried by a military court and executed for the couple’s murders in 1992 — and the failure of forensic scientist Henry Lee to take into account the low height of the couple’s furniture, by which the Supreme Court apparently meant the alleged murderers could have stood on the furniture to avoid leaving footprints. The panel also said Lee’s measurements of the crime scene were flawed.
The first two reasons appear unresolvable — the police are unlikely to admit to torturing Wang, his brother, Wang Wen-chung (王文忠), who was convicted as serving as a lookout, and the trio — given that the methods used, as detailed by the trio, include hanging the suspects upside down and forcing water and urine into their mouths, as well as forcing them to sit on blocks of ice. Since Wang Wen-hsiao is dead, there is no going back to ask him about discrepancies between his alleged confession and those of the trio.
As for the furniture issue, it would be laughable if the case weren’t such a horrible example of incompetence at every level of the investigatory and judicial process. Lee said the scenario laid out by prosecutors of multiple killers was “highly improbable” because of the confined area and single set of fingerprints and shoe prints. There was never forensic evidence linking the trio to the killings — or anyone else but Wang Wen-hsiao. However, raising the question of murderers standing on furniture could alleviate the need to account for the lack of footprints in the pools of blood on the floor. Clutching at straws does not even begin to cover the kind of twisted logic that could come up with that idea.
The Criminal Procedure Act (刑事訴訟法) states that confessions cannot serve as the sole basis of evidence of guilt and prohibits the use of evidence extracted through torture in courts. It is well past time for the courts to accept that the trio’s confessions alone — extracted through torture or not — are not enough to overcome the presumption of innocence in the absence of any evidence against them.
This case has set so many local precedents — the first time the Ministry of Justice granted a death row defendant (Su) leave from prison to visit a dying relative (his father), the first capital punishment case to be granted a retrial, the first capital case where a verdict was changed to not guilty in a retrial, the first case to have the prosecutor general file three extraordinary appeals to have the convictions overturned and finally, the first to allow defendants to remain free despite the re-imposition of the death penalty. Now it is time for one more first: a presidential apology and pardon.
In February, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was quick to say sorry for the wrongful conviction and execution of Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) 14 years ago for the rape and murder of a little girl. Like in the Chiang case, the military’s rush to convict and execute Wang Wen-hsiao lies at the crux of the Hsichih saga.
It might be easier to apologize to people wrongfully convicted of murder if they are dead themselves — but it is time for Ma to end the Hsichih case by apologizing to the victims’ families, to the trio and their families and to the nation, and then pardoning the trio.
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