Sun, Jan 04, 2009 - Page 13 News List

No end in sight

Faced with public intransigence and what they say is a flawed system, activists support an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen  /  STAFF REPORTER

VIEW THIS PAGE On Jan. 17 of last year, Wang Kuo-hua (王國華) lost his third and final trial, sending him to death row on a charge of premeditated murder with rape.

The verdict, however, states that the survivor among Wang’s two victims told the court Wang had not raped her or her friend, and her testimony did not indicate that he had planned the murder.

The case illustrates systemic problems with the nation’s death penalty system that the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (廢除死刑推動聯盟) has long campaigned to change.

It is not clear why Wang received the severest sentence, Taiwan Alliance director Lin Hsin-yi (林欣怡) said in a recent interview.

Furthermore, the judge said in the ruling that Wang was apparently mentally ill.

Yet none of these points was taken into account for the sentencing, Lin said.

A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION

Wang met two junior high students over the Internet and arranged a meeting. The girls went with Wang to his apartment, where he offered them money for sex, according to the survivor. When the pair turned down his offer, Wang began groping them, she testified, and they tried to leave the apartment.

Wang assaulted the girls, tied them up and put a plastic bag over one’s head and taped the other’s mouth up. He put them in the trunk of his car, where the victim with the bag over her head died of suffocation, drove to a river and threw both girls in.

Wang had thrown the two students into shallow water and when the survivor managed to untie the rope, he attempted to help her out of the river, which does not seem to indicate premeditation, Lin said.

According to Article 19 of the Criminal Code (刑法), if a defendant is found to have had “psychological problems or other mental deficiencies” when the crime was committed, which prevented the guilty from understanding the full meaning of his or her actions, the court can choose not to impose a punishment. If the defendant’s judgment was “impaired” by psychological problems, the court “may impose a milder sentence.”

The Article is sometimes ignored by prosecutors and judges, or interpreted in different ways.

Lin consulted Legal Aid Foundation (法律扶助基金會) Secretary-General Kuo Chi-jen (郭吉仁) regarding the case, who examined the verdict and identified several irregularities.

The foundation, a member of the Taiwan Alliance, is a nonprofit organization independent of, but funded by, the Judicial Yuan. With branches across the country, it provides pro bono legal aid to defendants who cannot afford a private attorney, but who are unsatisfied with the public defender supplied by the courts.

The Taiwan Alliance hopes to convince Wang to allow a foundation lawyer to file one or more appeals on his behalf. Last week, Lin wrote to Wang, whom she has visited in prison, sending him Kuo’s point-by-point explanation on the grounds to appeal the court’s verdict.

Wang has previously said he does not wish to appeal his sentence, and wants only to be executed swiftly to relieve his family of the financial burden and shame of having a relative on death row. (Families pay for some daily needs of prisoners.)

At his final trial, in front of the Supreme Court, Wang had no lawyer. In addition, by his own account, the public defender assigned to Wang urged him to confess to the charges, rather than mount a defense.

Wang’s case is far from unique and is indicative of several flaws in the judicial system, Lin said.

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