Wed, Dec 09, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Defendant sentenced to death for the eighth time

ROUND AND ROUND Hsu Tsu-chiang’s lawyers say his conviction was based solely on the confessions of two codefendants, one of whom recanted the testimony

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chen Hsiu-chin breaks down in tears in front of the Taipei High Court yesterday after the court upheld the death penalty against her son, Hsu Tsu-chiang, who is one of three people convicted for the kidnapping and murder of Huang Chun-shu 14 years ago.

PHOTO: YANG KUO-WEN, TAIPEI TIMES

A defendant in one of a number of death penalty cases said by human rights lawyers to be deeply flawed was sentenced to death for the eighth time yesterday, drawing anger from observers who say there is no forensic evidence to justify a conviction.

Hsu Tsu-chiang’s (徐自強) mother, Chen Hsiu-chin (陳秀琴), broke down when the judges at the Taiwan branch of the High Court read the judgment in the 14-year-old case, collapsing against a wall and sobbing uncontrollably.

The courtroom was packed to capacity as supporters, family and observers squeezed into the room and crowded the corridor outside to hear the judgment. Some wore T-shirts bearing the faces of the Hsichih Trio, another ongoing death penalty case that, like Hsu’s, was finalized by the Supreme Court — sending the defendants to death row — but later reopened because of flaws or new evidence.

After the judgment, Hsu’s mother had to be propped up as she walked out of the courthouse, and collapsed again on the steps outside, surrounded by reporters and photographers.

Dozens of human rights activists, lawyers and others gathered outside the courthouse, holding signs that read “injustice” as Chen cried on the pavement in front of them.

Hsu’s case had a significant impact on judicial procedure in 2004, when the Council of Grand Justices ruled that it was unconstitutional to use the confessions of his codefendants against him without allowing his lawyers to cross-­examine them.

Constitutional Interpretation No. 582 applies to new cases, but because of limited resources, was applied retroactively in Hsu’s case alone, which was reopened in 2005. By that time, Hsu had spent five years on death row.

Hsu, 44, was one of three people convicted in the 1995 murder of Huang Chun-shu (黃春樹). Huang was kidnapped outside his home and murdered shortly afterward, his body disfigured and abandoned in the countryside in Taipei County.

Attempts by the murderers to secure a ransom from the family enabled police to track down two suspects. Those two remain on death row and were linked to the murder by forensic evidence.

Hsu, however, was convicted based solely on the confessions of the other two, his lawyers say. One of the two later said Hsu was innocent and that they had implicated him because they wanted revenge over a private conflict.

The Control Yuan in 2001 issued a scathing report on Hsu’s conviction, citing serious flaws in the case, while the prosecutor-general filed a record five extraordinary appeals in the case, seeking to reopen it.

The Supreme Court agreed only after the Council of Grand Justices’ ruling.

Prosecutors say the evidence against Hsu is solid, citing the fact that one of the suspects (who left the country and was never caught) stayed at Hsu’s home around the time of the crime and that a car rented by him was one of several cars used for the crime.

Defense lawyers dismiss these arguments as circumstantial and add that all the other cars used for the crime were stolen, and it was therefore extremely doubtful that the perpetrators would have been careless enough to rent one of the cars under one of their own names. Hsu was tricked into renting a car for his “friends,” who didn’t have one and said they needed it for the day, his lawyers say.

The Control Yuan agreed that prosecutors’ arguments were “illogical.” It also said prosecutors ignored testimony indicating that Hsu was not at the scene of the crime.

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