After 19 years, three men accused of brutally murdering a married couple had their names cleared once again yesterday and walked free after a retrial found them not guilty in light of a new forensic report.
The latest verdict was reached yesterday morning by the Taiwan High Court and immediately left a family member of the two victims expressing frustration, requesting that prosecutors launch a Supreme Court appeal.
Known in English as the “Hsichih Trio,” Su Chien-ho (蘇建和), Liu Bin-lang (劉秉郎) and Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) were accused in August 1991 of breaking and entering an apartment in Sijhih (汐止), Taipei County, in search of valuables.
Along with Wang Wen-hsiao (王文孝), an army conscript who was later executed under military law, the three men were accused of taking turns to rape Yeh Ying-lan (葉盈蘭) and then stabbing and bludgeoning both her and her husband, Wu Min-han (吳銘漢), to death, according to an original indictment.
The case has taken a series of legal twists and turns between 1995 and 2007, including in May 2000, when then-state public -prosecutor-general Chen Han (陳涵) made three extraordinary appeals to the Supreme Court for a retrial and the High Court decided to retry the case.
In January 2003, the High Court acquitted the trio and released them. However, prosecutors appealed the case back to the Supreme Court, which ordered yet another retrial and the high court again sentenced them to death in June 2007, although the trio was not detained.
During their stay on death row, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who was serving as justice minister at the time, refused to sign the sentence, saying there were still too many unanswered questions.
To fight the High Court’s death sentence, the trio’s panel of lawyers tried to press their case publicly in August last year, presenting a forensic report by forensic scientist Henry Lee (李昌鈺) that said a single killer could have carried out the double murder and rape.
In the latest verdict rendered by the Taiwan High Court yesterday, it suggested there were multiple problems with the forensic evidence taken immediately after the crime. Referring to new information given in the forensic report by Lee, the new ruling said that Wang had most likely acted alone in committing the two murders.
Upon hearing the ruling, the three men, accused since they were 19, quietly stood up and bowed deeply to the judge. Dressed casually in white sneakers, jeans and light jackets, they then turned around and somberly gave their lawyer a group hug.
Su, Liu and Chuang had originally pleaded guilty to the crime during their initial testimony, after Wang told investigators that both his younger brother and the three others were involved. While Wang’s brother received 32 months in prison as an accessory to murder, the three later retracted their confessions, saying that they had been made under torture.
Their lawyers had argued that neither police nor prosecutors have ever presented direct evidence to prove their guilt.
“I was framed by the police at the time and I have always carried the knowledge that I am innocent,” Chuang, now 38, said, speaking outside the courtroom after the ruling.
The three also expressed their gratitude to the judicial system and said they wanted to thank society.
Liu, also 38, said the verdict “was something that we were owed, after all, we had been waiting for the word ‘innocent’ for almost 20 years now.”