There have been mixed comments after a long-running murder case came to an end on Friday after the defendants, known as the “Hsichih Trio,” were found not guilty.
The Taiwan High Court closed the 21-year-old case, saying its verdict was final and no further appeals were to be allowed, in accordance with the Fair and Speedy Criminal Trials Act (刑事妥速審判法).
It was the third time that Su Chien-ho (蘇建和), Liu Bin-lang (劉秉郎) and Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) were acquitted in the High Court since their case was reopened in 2000.
The three men were charged with the murder of Wu Ming-han (吳銘漢) and his wife, Yeh Ying-lan (葉盈蘭), who were found dead in their apartment on March 24, 1991. The couple had been stabbed a total of 79 times.
Five months after the murder, police arrested a soldier, Wang Wen-hsiao (王文孝). His brother, Wang Wen-chung (王文忠), whom he had implicated, was also arrested and he then named three classmates — Su, Liu and Chuang — as accomplices.
Wang Wen-hsiao was later found guilty and sentenced to death by a military court. Before his execution in January 1992, Wang maintained that the other three suspects had been involved in the murders.
Wang Wen-chung served two years in jail after being convicted of being an accomplice.
The three men were tried several times over many years and were sentenced to death five times. However, five separate justice ministers refused to sign death warrants for the three.
A report by US-based forensic expert Henry Lee (李昌鈺) played a key role in the case. Lee concluded that the crime may have been committed by a single assailant.
The three men are now free under the law, which stipulates that if a case is retried more than three times over a period of six years and a not-guilty verdict is returned three times, prosecutors are not allowed any further appeals.
Friday’s verdict has elicited mixed responses from groups.
Chen Shu-chen (陳淑貞), director of the Taipei Branch of the Association For Victim Support, said the law must be amended to protect the rights of victims. The aim of the law is to facilitate a speedy trial, but it could also result in a blurring of the truth, she said.
She raised the question of whether the law, which was enacted in 2010, had been “tailored for the Hsichih Trio.”
The law is aimed at ending long-running cases, but it has not helped to shed light on the truth in this particular case, nor has it helped the victims, she added.
Lu Chin-te (陸晉德), whose son was kidnapped and murdered in another high-profile case, said the law favors perpetrators and ignores the rights of the victims.
It is tantamount to handing defense lawyers an ace, which allows them to drag out the trial process for as long as possible to help their clients wriggle off the hook, Lu said.
On the other hand, Su Yiu-chen (蘇友辰), president of the Chinese Association for Human Rights and the trio’s defense lawyer, said the Fair and Speedy Criminal Trials Act is not a bad law.
“It is better to have the law than not have it,” he said.
The law will prompt prosecutors to be more careful in their investigations and to compile more solid evidence, he added.
Lawyer Chan Shun-kuei (詹順貴) said if defendants are freed because of the law, victims still have the right to sue for compensation. Victims can also question why judicial authorities failed to gather enough evidence to convict defendants, Chan said.