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16 years and many convictions later, felony suspect to be released

2012/05/18 22:04:05

Taipei, May 18 (CNA) A man who has repeatedly appealed convictions on kidnapping, extortion and murder charges will be released at midnight Friday under a new rule that requires the release of suspects who have been detained for eight years without a final resolution of their cases.

Hsu Tzi-chiang was given a life sentence by the Taiwan High Court Friday in the eighth retrial of his case, in which he is accused of playing a role in the kidnapping and murder of Huang Chun-shu, a real estate broker, in September 1995.

He has been held for nearly 16 years amid numerous retrials and five special appeals of his case filed by human rights groups.

The court also ruled that Hsu could be immediately released on NT$2.5 million bail, but his mother said the family could not afford such a large sum.

Even without bail, Hsu is eligible to be released at midnight Friday when Article 5 of the Criminal Speedy Trial Act takes effect.

The article stipulates that defendants in criminal cases should be released if they have not yet received final convictions after having been detained for eight years.

But whether Hsu posts bail or is freed under the provisions of Article 5, he will still be barred from leaving the country and will be restricted to his legally reported residence.

Hsu will also be required to periodically report to the police office in his neighborhood and respond to court summons for follow-up legal proceedings or hearings.

Hsu and three accomplices were charged with kidnapping and murdering Huang, in addition to demanding a ransom of NT$70 million (US$2.37 million) from Huang's family.

One of the accomplices, Huang Ming-chuan, was murdered during a trip to Thailand in late 1995, and the other two -- Huang Chun-chi and Chen Yi-lung-- have been convicted and given death sentences.

Only Hsu's case remained in limbo as he insisted on his innocence throughout the legal process despite being sentenced to death eight times, in the case's two trials and first six retrials. In the seventh retrial last year, the Taiwan High Court handed him a life sentence for the first time after determining that he only took part in kidnapping the victim and extorting money from the victim's family but did not play a role in the murder.

Prosecutors appealed the ruling and the Supreme Court demanded the High Court to retry the case for an eighth time.

Judges in the eighth retrial said they upheld Hsu's life sentence on the grounds that even though he did not join his three accomplices in killing the victim in Xizhi in New Taipei, he did take part in the kidnapping and tried extorting money from the family even after learning of the victim's death. According to the judges, the other three men involved in the crime argued that Hsu took part in every phase of the crime.

Hsu, who can still appeal his case, will be the first beneficiary of Article 5 of the Criminal Speedy Trial Act.

According to a Ministry of Justice review, Hsu is also the only individual in the legal system at present who is eligible to be released when Article 5 takes effect at midnight.

Since other provisions of the Criminal Speedy Trial Act came into force in mid-2010, defendants in 107 criminal cases have had their sentences commuted because of previous delays in closing their cases.

According to the ministry, the longest any criminal suspect has been detained in the legal system at present is slightly more than five years.

Another individual being detained named Yang Shih-ming had also been expected to be released under the new law. But the Supreme Court rejected on Thursday an appeal by Yang against a life sentence given to him by the Taiwan High Court on May 2, finalizing his case and preventing him from qualifying to be released under Article 5 Friday midnight.

Never before had the Supreme Court closed a case in a similar two-week span after receiving an appeal of a High Court ruling. Yang, a scion of the prominent Vedan Enterprise Corp., has been detained since May 7, 2004 on drug-smuggling charges. He was convicted and given a life sentence on charges of smuggling 30.2 kilograms of heroin to Taiwan from Vietnam in January 2004.

(By Huang Yi-han and Sofia Wu)