Sun, Jul 15, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Pardonee’s battle sets precedent

By Stephen Hsu and Brian Tratner

Su Pin-kun (蘇炳坤) slowly walked down the hall of the Taiwan High Court and took a seat outside the courtroom. It was the first hearing since the Supreme Court on Feb. 8 affirmed the constitutionality of having a retrial for pardoned defendants.

“The judges found me guilty in this exact courtroom all this time ago,” he said to the bailiffs, who were listening intently.

Su recounted the painful memories of getting tortured by police more than 30 years ago.

“They waterboarded me … and did all kinds of terrible stuff to me,” he said.

“I am turning 70 next year. Much of my life is in vain. My career is destroyed. Only so many years remain for me. All I want is justice, a pronounced innocence,” Su said as he became emotional.

“Do you know who the judges were for my previous trial?” Su asked the bailiffs standing outside the courtroom, and proceeded to name the three judges from his immaculate memory.

As it turns out, being able to remember what happened almost 30 years ago is an overarching theme of this court proceeding.

In 1987 Su was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of robbery and attempted murder. Instead of turning himself in, Su lived in exile under the protection of a district attorney until he was arrested while visiting Chang Gung Hospital in New Taipei City’s Linkou District (林口) in 1997.

In 2000, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) granted a special executive pardon to Su, who was serving the second year of his sentence. Yet the special executive pardon did little to clear Su’s name or compensate him for his years of suffering, merely annulling the conviction and the sentence.

Insistent on receiving official recognition of his innocence from the criminal justice system, Su last year filed a motion for retrial with the help of the Taiwan Innocence Project (台灣冤獄平反協會). The motion was eventually granted by the Taiwan High Court and affirmed by the Supreme Court the following year, after the government’s appeal was dismissed.

Su’s case is an extraordinary one in Taiwanese legal history in a number of ways. In addition to being the first example of the Supreme Court granting a retrial to a defendant who has already received a special executive pardon, Su’s case epitomizes an important issue that the criminal justice system has yet to fully confront: police use of torture.

The police allegedly tied Su to a metal bar, stripped off his clothing, waterboarded him, rang an airstrike siren against his ear and repeatedly kicked him in his waist. While less common today, these practices were frequently used in the 1980s.

There was an evident sense of history in the making in the courtroom on July 2. Uniquely, both the defense and the prosecution acknowledged Su’s innocence of the alleged crimes.

The defense called on two witnesses: Peng Ming-chi (彭明基) and Kuo Chung-hsiung (郭中雄).

Kuo is Su’s former employee, who while being interrogated falsely named Su as his accomplice in a jewelry store robbery. Like Su, Kuo was coerced into making a false confession after being tortured by the police.

Peng is the owner of another jewelry store and allegedly bought the stolen necklace and bracelet from Kuo.

The inability to recall information about what happened more than 30 years ago was a thread that ran through both witnesses’ testimonies.

In sharp contrast with Su, Kuo repeatedly stated that he was unable to remember the specifics of what transpired.

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