Defense ministry may appeal over 1996 murder case

By Vincent Y. Chao and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Fri, May 14, 2010 - Page 1

Ministry of National Defense (MND) officials said yesterday an extraordinary appeal might be launched to reopen the case of a soldier executed for the murder and rape of a five-year old girl.

Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶), who was serving in the air force at the time, was found guilty after a month-long investigation and sentenced to death in 1996 after a girl, surnamed Hsieh, was found dead at an air force base in Taipei City.

Chiang’s family and supporters have long maintained his innocence and said that the speedy trial and execution was the result of pressure put on the military by government officials to solve the case within a set timeframe.

The ministry’s comments came after the Control Yuan on Wednesday censured the ministry over the case, saying there were seven major flaws in the military trial.

Speaking in the legislature, Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) said that the ministry was looking into filing an appeal, pending the full text of the Control Yuan’s report, which he said it had yet to receive.

“We will handle this issue cautiously. Everything will be done according to procedure,” Yang said in response to questions as to whether Chiang’s family would be entitled to compensation if the sentence were to be overturned.

In its report, the Control Yuan also suggested that the crime was committed by a former airman surnamed Hsu (?and said they suspected Hsu was also involved in another unsolved case in December the same year when another five-year girl, surnamed Lin, was found impaled with a bamboo spear.

Hsu has been in jail since 2003 after being convicted for the kidnap and sexual abuse of two girls while on parole in 2001, after a 1997 sentence for raping a six-year-old girl was commuted.

The Control Yuan members said Hsu was scheduled to be released in November.

Control Yuan members Ma Yi-kung (馬以工), Yang Mei-ling (楊美玲) and Shen Mei-chen (沈美真) called a press conference on Wednesday to announce their findings.

The Control Yuan recommended that the Prosecutors’ Office of the Military Supreme Court lodge an extraordinary appeal and conduct a retrial.

The government watchdog also said that Prosecutor General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) and the Ministry of the Interior should instruct prosecutors and the National Police Agency to reopen an investigation into the case.

Chiang was charged with raping Hsieh at air command on Sept. 12, 1996, and executed on Aug. 13 the next year.

One of the flaws found by the Control Yuan members was that former defense minister Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏), who was the commander-in-chief of the Air Force at the time, referred the case to the counterintelligence agency instead of the judiciary, which violated the Code of Court Martial Procedure (軍事審判法).

“First, there were no military rules or regulations that entitled the counterintelligence agency to exert military jurisdiction,” Ma said.

“[That agency] extracted a confession from [Chiang] by illegal measures,” Ma said.

“For example, he was imprisoned and asked leading questions in a 37-hour-long interrogation session … The corroborative evidence supporting the guilty verdict was a contaminated tissue found in a trash can that had not been cleaned for three days,” Ma said.

Chiang wrote in notes he kept while in prison that he was threatened with an electronic baton, exposed to strong lights and forced to undergo physical activities all night during questioning, the Control Yuan’s report said.

“We learned from an assessment report conducted by the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau that the DNA of a pubic hair found on the girl’s right thigh did not match that of Chiang,” Yang said.

“The military made no mention of this justice ministry report at the time,” Yang said.

The case was addressed by the Control Yuan after years of effort by Chiang’s father, who made the first appeal 14 years ago.

“If it had been reviewed in line with procedural justice, this regrettable miscarriage of justice could have been avoided,” Ma said.

The Control Yuan’s investigation report suggested that Hsu was involved in the crime.

“It was not for us to say who the killer is, but the evidence we have gathered shows Hsu is a suspect,” Ma said.

The Control Yuan report said that while being questioned about the attack on Lin, Hsu confessed to the crime against Hsieh two months before Chiang was convicted, giving a clear account of the girl’s clothing and details of the crime.

Lin, who was also five, was found suffering after being impaled on a bamboo spear.

She survived the incident, but died last year from complications from her intestinal injuries.

The Lin case remains unsolved after Hsieh Chien-mao (謝振茂), who was originally charged with the crime, cleared his name in a Supreme Court trial in January.

Ma said that the Control Yuan found the military’s handling of the Hsieh case unusual.

Upon receiving the allegations that Hsu may have been involved in the case, the military had Hsu undergo a psychiatric examination before concluding that he was mentally retarded.

The military ruled this made his confession invalid, Ma said.

Opposition party lawmakers yesterday directed criticism at the former defense minister.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Huang-­liang (蔡煌瑯), who said that Chiang came to him for help at the time, said that Chen did not have the proper authority to investigate the case that ultimately led to Chiang’s conviction and execution.