Sat, Jul 24, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Death row inmate's appeal okayed

LAST CHANCE The Council of Grand Justices overturned a Supreme Court ruling on a death sentence case after legal revisions made the decision unconstitutional

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Council of Grand Justices yesterday gave death-row inmate Hsu Tzu-chiang (徐自強) another chance to file an extraordinary appeal to the Supreme Court to defend his life.

"We affirm the decision by the grand justices and are thankful for the chance to live. We will file the extraordinary appeal as soon as possible," said Greg Yo (尤伯祥), an attorney who volunteered to defend Hsu.

Based on the application filed by Hsu's defense team last December, the grand justices yesterday handed down their decision based on the Interpretation Article 582 of the Constitution. In it, they ruled that a Supreme Court decision to uphold a high court's verdict to sentence Hsu to death was unconstitutional.

"The judges decided to accept Hsu's co-suspects' testimony, in deciding to sentence him to death," Judicial Yuan Secretary-General Fan Kuang-chun (范光群) said.

"However, according to the amended Criminal Code, only witness testimony can be used against a suspect, but a suspect has the right to challenge incriminating witness testimony in court," he added.

In the case, Hsu was convicted based on the testimony of his co-suspects, Huang Chun-chi (黃春棋) and Chen Yi-lung (陳憶龍).

Supreme Court Spokesman Chi Chun-chien (紀俊乾) said the Supreme Court will respect grand justices' decision, but noted: "Before the Article 186-3 of the Criminal Code was amended on Feb. 6, 2003, the co-suspects' testimony could be regarded as evidence in a case."

"This crime was committed in 1995 and Hsu's death penalty was handed down on April 27, 2000. It is not fair to rebut our decision by judging the case with the newly amended law," Chu said.

Hsu was indicted for the September 1995 kidnapping and murder of Huang Chun-shu (黃春樹), based on the testimony of his alleged accomplices. Hsu turned himself in when he realized that he was a suspect.

The argument for Hsu's defense concerns whether his co-suspects' testimony should be used as evidence. One of the co-suspects, surnamed Chen, wrote a confession admitting that he had deliberately incriminated Hsu because he had a grudge against him and hoped to delay his trial. However, the Taiwan High Court decided not to admit this as evidence when it heard Hsu's case, and upheld the death penalty passed down by the lower court.

In refusing to hear Chen's confession, the high court breached Hsu's human rights, his defense team argues. But despite Chen's testimony, the Supreme Court said there was no other evidence to prove Hsu's innocence. As a result, the judges could not suspend his death penalty simply because Chen decided to retract his testimony.

Hsu's defense team petitioned State Public Prosecutor General Lu Jen-fa (盧仁發) to pursue an extraordinary appeal for Hsu on four previous occasions.

Lu finally approved the fifth petition to grant the first extraordinary appeal in 2001, but that appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court on March 21, 2002. After that, Lu filed another slate of appeals to the Supreme Court in May, but all were once again rejected.

Defense counsel petitions cited a Control Yuan investigation report released in January 2001, which concluded Hsu's conviction was flawed and unlawful.

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