The Taichung branch of the Taiwan High Court yesterday acquitted death row inmate Cheng Hsing-tse (鄭性澤) of all charges, overturning his convictions in a long-running case stemming from the 2002 killing of a police officer in Taichung.
Cheng, 50, maintained his innocence throughout his 14-year imprisonment, of which he spent 10 years on death row.
“I have been waiting for this day for 15 years,” Cheng said in a statement after the verdict. “Up until today, I was a man without a tomorrow. From this moment, I want to start a brand new life.”
Photo: Chang Jui-chen, Taipei Times
Cheng’s case went through seven trials and eight retrials, including the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision to uphold the death sentence.
In March last year, prosecutors applied with the Taiwan High Court for a retrial after new evidence emerged. Cheng was released on bail in May that year.
The details of the case remained unclear. There were doubts regarding the death of police officer Su Hsien-pi (蘇憲丕) and contradictory testimony over who at a Taichung karaoke parlor fired the gun that killed him.
Human rights advocates and judicial reform groups, including the Taiwan Association for Innocence and the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, relentlessly campaigned locally and abroad to secure Cheng’s release.
Cheng’s family and the rights advocates highlighted what they called flaws in the original investigation, as well as allegedly questionable investigation methods — including torture and a coerced confession — and the use of inconclusive evidence by prosecutors.
In one retrial, Cheng claimed that he was tortured by police, who he said administered electric shocks to his genitals and forced water down his throat with a hose.
However, prosecutors challenged his claims, saying the defense could not provide evidence of torture.
Taiwan Association for Innocence officials yesterday said in a statement that although Cheng was acquitted of all charges, “we cannot find joy in this, because it proves once again that there are innocent people who have been wrongly convicted and given the death sentence.”
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) expressed her support for Cheng and the association at a news conference at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.
“We have seen that the investigation and prosecution lacked professionalism, and were filled with mistakes. We must undertake a comprehensive review to ensure there will not be another Cheng Hsing-tse, nor another broken family,” Yu said. “The justice system should not be used to persecute victims.”
Upon learning of his acquittal, Cheng penned a statement, which was translated into English and Japanese by capital punishment abolition campaigners, in the form a letter addressed to Su’s son.
“For 15 years I was called a cop-killer and lived on death row. Every single day I lived in terror of being executed and my family receiving the devastating news. My family and I have been through an ordeal of pain and fear unimaginable to anyone else,” Cheng wrote.
“Nevertheless, in those 15 years, one particular image was always imprinted in my brain. It was the image of you looking at me the way you did the day the police took me to the funeral parlor and forced me, in handcuffs and restraints, to worship at the alter you had set up for your father,” he wrote. “You were already there by the time we arrived. Startled by the sound of chains, you turned your head to look at me.”
“Today, I am exonerated. Fifteen years on, I can now finally tell you, once and for all: I am not your father’s killer,” he wrote. “Although you and I are on opposite sides of this tragic incident, we [have] one thing in common: We have both suffered the most horrendous ordeal of loss, grief, hate, broken hopes and dreams. Your family and mine are all victims in this tragedy.”
If Cheng’s acquittal becomes final, he could receive compensation of between NT$3,000 and NT$5,000 (US$99.24 and US$165.40) per day of wrongful detention, prosecutors said, meaning he could receive up to NT$21.6 million.
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