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Court reverses conviction in 17-year-old murder case

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Court reverses conviction in 17-year-old murder case

Taipei, April 2 (CNA) The Taiwan High Court overturned on Tuesday the conviction of a former serviceman charged with raping and murdering a girl in 1996 because of the lack of direct evidence, a new turn in a case in which a man has already been wrongly executed. Hsu Jung-chou, who was sentenced to 18 years in jail for the offense by the Taipei District Court in December 2011, showed no emotion as the verdict was read and did not speak to reporters as he left the court accompanied by his lawyer. The Taiwan High Court said it reversed the original ruling because of discrepancies between Hsu's confession and crucial details surrounding the crime, including the autopsy results, and because of serious flaws in how the confession was obtained. Hsu said, for example, that he sexually assaulted the five-year-old girl with his fingers, but that contradicted the views of coroners and National Taiwan University Hospital, which found that the girl's vagina was penetrated with foreign objects when she was alive and after her death. Also, prosecutors presented seven confessions given by Hsu but the court found them contradictory and questioned their validity because of Hsu's mild mental retardation. The court also brushed aside one of the prosecutors' key pieces of evidence -- a palm print found at the crime scene that matched Hsu's palm -- saying that it only proved Hsu was at the scene but did not prove he killed the girl. The victim's body was found in a ditch near a toilet at the Air Force Combat Command in Taipei on Sept. 12, 1996 and the nation was shocked because of the brutality of the crime and the place where it took place. Chen Hung-ta, a spokesman of the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutors Office, said it would decide whether to appeal the acquittal after receiving the written ruling. Judicial Reform Foundation issued a statement praising the High Court for sticking to the evidence and not accepting a flawed confession. But the foundation also said that key evidence in the case has been lost, making it hard to track down the real perpetrator, and it urged related authorities to go after those who were responsible for the loss of evidence and the poor handling of the case at the time. The reversal of Hsu's conviction was the latest twist in the high-profile case. Airman Chiang Kuo-ching was originally found guilty of the crime by a military court after being tortured into a confession and was put to death in 1997 at the age of 21. But doubts over Chiang's involvement persisted, and after the Control Yuan, the branch of government responsible for monitoring the actions of public agencies, censured the military for its handling of the case in 2010, Prosecutor General Huang Shih-ming ordered a retrial. A new investigation launched by the SID and the Taipei District Prosecutors Office concluded in May 2011 that Hsu rather than Chiang murdered the girl. Chiang was acquitted of the rape and murder charges in a posthumous retrial in 2011. A military court awarded NT$103 million (US$3.45 million) in compensation to Chiang's mother the same year. Military officers and civilians involved in the wrongful execution of Chiang were punished and awards that some of them received at the time for presumably solving the case were revoked. The military said Tuesday that Hsu's acquittal would not affect its civil suit against former Defense Minister Chen Chao-min and five others implicated in Chiang's wrongful death. Chen, who was Air Force Combat Commander when the crime was committed, was later indicted on the charge of improperly extracting confessions. (By Liu Shih-yi, Huang Hsu-sheng, Tsai Pei-chi and Lilian Wu)