TAIPEI (AFP) – A Taiwanese man who spent more than a decade on death row walked free yesterday after being acquitted of murder in a retrial, boosting calls for the abolition of capital punishment.
Cheng Hsing-tse was condemned to death in 2002 after being found guilty of shooting a police officer during a gun battle in a karaoke parlour.
The death penalty was confirmed in 2006, when he had exhausted the appeal process.
But he was granted a retrial last year and released on bail when new evidence cast doubt on his conviction, suggesting he may have been tortured into admitting the crime.
The high court in Taichung delivered its decision yesterday, overturning the original guilty verdict, saying Mr Cheng’s confession may have been forced and that evidence pointed to another culprit firing the fatal shots. “I’ve waited for this acquittal for 15 years,” Mr Cheng said yesterday outside the court after the verdict.
Mr Cheng was a follower of gangster Luo Wu-hsiung and was caught up in the gun battle after Luo fired a pistol at the ceiling and at bottles in a karaoke room in protest at the parlour’s service. Police stormed the venue and shots were fired by both sides, killing Luo and an officer named Su Hsien-pi.
Earlier verdicts found that Mr Cheng fired the bullets that killed Su. But judges yesterday said after considering evidence of the firing positions, it could not be ruled out that Luo was the killer.
The high court said in a statement that Mr Cheng’s face had shown “obvious new bruising” during interrogations, “suggesting his confession wasn’t voluntary”.
The Control Yuan – the government’s highest watchdog – recommended the supreme court prosecutor’s office to apply for a retrial after investigating Mr Cheng’s case in 2014.
It said police forced a confession from Mr Cheng “by means of torture” and certain autopsy findings were ignored.
Taiwan resumed capital punishment in 2010 after a five-year hiatus. Executions are reserved for serious crimes including aggravated murder.
There are currently 43 convicts on death row in Taiwan, according to campaign group Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty. Rights groups have urged Taiwan’s government to abandon the practice, but polls show a majority of the public still support it.