A scientific report is providing a silver lining in the trial of former decathlete Ku Chin-shui (古金水), who is appealing a seven-and-a-half-year prison term for causing an explosion aboard a civilian passenger airplane four years ago.
Considering the prosecutor's case against Ku to be full of holes, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial last Thursday, as new evidence came to light.
Huang Hung-hsia (黃虹霞), an attorney-at-law who volunteered to be Ku's pro bono defendant, said the Supreme Court became willing to allow a retrial only after it was presented with a report from the military's Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CIST) that showed that it is almost impossible for a sealed plastic bottle containing gasoline to explode in an airplane luggage rack.
The truth is, Huang said, the two bottles Ku gave to his nephew to carry aboard a UNI Airways passenger plane from Taipei to Hualien on Aug. 24, 1999 contained bleach and not gasoline. However, the Hualien District Court judges had decided the bottles contained gasoline and based Ku's 10-year-sentence on speculation, Huang said.
Preliminary investigation reports in 1999 indicated that the blast was caused by two bottles of household bleach, but the Hualien judges nevertheless claimed in their verdict that Ku gave his nephew a bag containing explosive goods, including gasoline, before the latter boarded the MD-90 jet flying from Taipei to Hualien.
The bag, according to the judges, exploded when the plane was in mid-air, killing Ku Chin-chih, the retired athlete's brother, and causing serious burns to Ku's mother, his sister-in-law and nephew.
According to the judges, Ku had put the gasoline into two plastic bleach bottles. The gasoline leaked during the flight and exploded when it caused a short-circuit in a motorbike battery in a nearby overhead luggage compartment.
An aboriginal decathlete who won a gold medal at the Sixth Asian Track and Field Championships in Jakarta in 1985, Ku's hometown is Hualien City, although he has lived in Taipei for many years.
Ku, who had been a physical education teacher at a junior high school in Taipei County until the 1999 explosion, appealed to the Taiwan High Court, which handed down a seven-and-a-half year prison term in May last year.
Huang said she believes Ku is not guilty and she continued to seek evidence to prove that the mid-air explosion was caused by neither bleach nor gasoline. She also persuaded the Aviation Safety Council into lending her the CIST research report to serve as evidence to show to Supreme Court judges.
Huang said the cotton swabs used by investigators in the airplane after the explosion had shown that there was bleach present, and Taipei's Sungshan Airport customs workers had also said they smelled bleach when the passengers were boarding.
In a "Save Ku" campaign launched in April 2001, former Olympic silver medallist Chi Cheng said the verdict delivered by the Hualien District Court judges was unacceptable because they delivered their verdict purely in accordance with the indictment compiled by prosecutors from the Hualien District Prosecutors Office and without any direct evidence.
She said the verdict is unjustified as the accused had no motives behind the "crime," while the scene of the investigation in the aftermath of the incident was damaged by the clumsiness and incompetence of the first-line investigators.