“August 8, 2011. Hello, this is the innocent Govinda. I heard the good, happy news about the new DNA test done on the 21st of last month. I am very pleased. At last my heart is cheered, if only a little.”
Govinda Prassad Mainali, 44, a Nepali man, has been in prison since 1997. The charge is murder, the victim a woman the media catchily dubbed the “elite OL.” She led a double life – Tokyo Electric Power Co economist by day, prostitute by night. The speculation is that she was in a state of acute depression, but little is known about what went on in her mind or what motivated her.
Govinda at the time had overstayed his visa and was working illegally at an Indian restaurant near the seedy Shibuya apartment where the woman’s body was found. He was one of her customers. He pleaded not guilty to murder and was found not guilty by a Tokyo District Court judge. Prosecutors promptly appealed, and the Tokyo High Court in December 2000 secured the guilty verdict they sought. The Supreme Court upheld the verdict in October 2003.
The widespread suspicion has been that the guilty verdicts reflected not so much the evidence as a justice system constitutionally incapable of recognizing innocence.
In July, Govinda’s lawyers were finally able to arrange a retest of DNA samples collected at the crime scene. Analysis showed them not to be Govinda’s. If this does not necessarily prove his innocence, it at least deepens doubts as to his guilt. The defense team is demanding a retrial – preferably by the end of September. Prosecutors seem in no hurry. Their latest response, reports Friday (Sept 2), is “We cannot answer now.”
Govinda’s Aug 8 letter, which Friday published, was written to Mikiko Kyakuno, a director of a citizens’ group supporting the prisoner as a falsely condemned man. It is in Japanese, handwritten, on a single A4 sheet of paper.
Govinda writes, “Even though it has become clear that I am innocent, I must stay in prison. Why? It is truly bitter and sad. The Japanese justice system is odd… They know I’m innocent. It is truly bitter that I must endure being in prison until my retrial. If I had really done something bad, then there would be no help for it. But I have done absolutely, absolutely nothing that deserves prison. Fourteen of the best years of my life have gone to waste…. I have an illness called PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I suffer terribly. I can’t sleep nights, I have no appetite. Please help me. The innocent Govinda Prasad Mainali, Yokohama Prison.”
“In September Govinda’s wife and elder brother are coming to Japan,” Kyakuno tells Friday. “Govinda told me, ‘Until now when I met my family, all I could say was, Believe me, wait for me. Now, for the first time, I am happy to have solid information for them.’”