Former Aboriginal decathlete Ku Chin-shui (古金水) was declared not guilty on Thursday by the Hualien branch of the Taiwan High Court in his fifth retrial in connection with an explosion and fire aboard a Uni Air flight in 1999. The verdict may not be appealed
Ku, a gold medalist in the decathlon at the 1970 Asian Games in Thailand, said he was thankful for the justice he received, even if it was late in coming.
On Aug. 24, 1999, a Uni Air MD90 that had taken off from what was then Songshan Airport in Taipei went up in flames after an onboard explosion as it landed at Hualien Airport.
Ku’s older brother, Ku Jing-chi (古金池), was killed, as was the fetus of Lee Hui-jung (李惠蓉). Twenty-eight others were injured, including Ku Chin-shui’s mother, sister-in-law and nephew, all of whom suffered burns.
Prosecutors indicted Ku Chin-shui for causing the explosion, claiming he had asked his nephew to bring gasoline in bleach and fabric softener bottles aboard the flight. Ku Chin-shui said the bottles he gave his nephew prior to boarding were filled with bleach, detergent and fabric softener.
An Aviation Safety Council (ASC) report said it was thought that the bottles were not sealed correctly and leaked gasoline fumes, which were then ignited when a motorbike battery, in a nearby overhead luggage compartment, was jostled, discharging an electric arc.
The judge in the fifth retrial said that although Ku Chin-shui had asked his nephew to carry a bottle of bleach in his luggage — which later examinations had determined to contain gasoline — the fragments that tested positive for gasoline were not limited to the fragments of the bottle.
The court said the safety council had not provided sufficient evidence to back its claims, and that the ASC-commissioned analysis by Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology into the cause of the explosion showed the environment of the institute’s simulation was different from that of the aircraft explosion.
The judge said a gasoline ignition could not be determined as the main factor for the explosion.
Ku Chin-shui was initially sentenced to a 10-year prison term, which was shortened to seven-and-a-half-years upon appeal.
After a 12-year battle to clear his name, Ku Chin-shui’s legal woes appear over.
Article Eight of the Fair and Speedy Criminal Trials Act (刑事妥速審判法) stipulates that cases maintaining a verdict of not guilty which last through a second retrial, or that have been tried and given two or more not guilty verdicts before a retrial by a court of the same jurisdictional level, or cases where a criminal sentence is not handed down six years from the date of the initial trial and the Supreme Court has asked for a retrial three times, may not be appealed.
Ku Chin-shui said last year that the case had taken an enormous toll on his life.
TRANSLATED BY JAKE CHUNG, STAFF WRITER.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STAFF WRITER