Time for justice as Taiwanese prisoner faces 11th retrial

Amnesty International urged Taiwan’s High Court to ensure a fair trial for a death row inmate preparing to face his 11th retrial in 21 years on Tuesday. Chiou Ho-shun was first tried in two cases related to the 1987 deaths of a nine-year-old boy and a middle-aged woman. He was sentenced to death for robbery, kidnapping, blackmailing and murder in 1989. He has been detained for over 21 years while the cases have bounced between the High Court and the Supreme Court for retrial. Amnesty International called on the High Court of Taiwan to conduct the latest trial in accordance with international fair trial standards, including prohibiting confessions obtained through torture and to refrain from imposing the death penalty. “Under international fair trial standards, defendants should have the right to be presumed innocent and tried without undue delay,” says Roseann Rife, Asia-Pacific Deputy Programme Director at Amnesty International. “This unresolved case lasting for more than two decades deserves a prompt resolution.” The cases against Chiou Ho-shun and his only remaining two other co-defendants, Lin Kun-ming and Wu Shu-chen, were flawed, according to the latest verdict document of the Supreme Court. The Court noted that the defendants’ fingerprints were not found at the crime scene. Other concerns are that the defendants had been denied access to legal counsel during the investigation stage; initial confessions of the defendants were extracted through torture; and the courts in previous trials had failed to exclude these confessions in reaching the guilty verdicts and the subsequent death sentence of Chiou Ho-shun.   No material evidence such as the murder weapon, victims’ bodies and their clothes have been found. Since Chiou Ho-shun and 11 other co-defendants were tried in the two 1987 deaths, nine of the defendants have either died or completed their sentences. In 1994, a number of police officers handling the 9-year old boy’s case were convicted for their involvement in extracting confessions through torture. Based on confessions by Chiou Ho-shun and the other co-defendants, the prosecutors joined the two cases in one indictment. In spite of this, during all the retrials, several dozen judges at the High Court have insisted on using the “torture-free” portions of the confessions. On 6 August 2009, the Supreme Court overturned portions of the original rulings against Chiou Ho-shun and the two other co-defendants, and returned the case to the High Court for retrial. An estimated 65 people have been sentenced to death in Taiwan and are awaiting appeals or execution as of July 2009. Although no executions have been carried out in Taiwan since December 2005 and former president Chen Shui-bian publicly opposed the death penalty, the current de facto moratorium has been formalized in law yet.