TAIPEI, Taiwan - A defendant in a controversial death penalty case was declared innocent after his ninth appeal yesterday, exactly 20 years after his alleged crime.
Hsu Tzu-chiang is one of three men sentenced to death in 2000 for the murder of a real estate businessman on Sept. 1, 1995.
Activists and Hsu's lawyers criticised the ruling on grounds that the sentence had been based on the confessions of his co-defendants.
The Taiwan High Court yesterday overturned Hsu's seven death sentences and two life sentences, declaring him not guilty.
The case had already gone through eight appeals on repeated retrials.
Hsu, in disbelief, turned to a nearby friend after the announcement and asked, "Is it not guilty?" Upon confirming the verdict, the defendant embraced his tearful mother.
"I have waited for 20 years," he said to a crowd of supporters waiting outside the high court. The sentence can still be appealed.
Hsu and two other men were sentenced to death for the alleged murder of real-estate businessman Huang Chun-shu in 1995.
The victim was kidnapped outside his home; after his murder, his disfigured body was abandoned in New Taipei City, and then Taipei County.
During the trial, defendants Huang Chun-chi and Chen Yi-lung were sentenced based on forensic evidence, while Hsu was convicted based on their testimony.
A fourth defendant had escaped to Thailand, where he died.
Activists have criticised Hsu's sentence and said that there was security footage proving he was elsewhere during the events.
The Judicial Reform Foundation has called the case deeply flawed, saying it demonstrates the need to implement a jury system in Taiwan to reduce judicial bias.
After the initial sentencing, one of the two defendants said he had accused Hsu as a way of getting revenge and that Hsu was innocent.
In 2001, Taiwan's Control Yuan released a report on Hsu's conviction that condemned the sentencing.
Hsu's case is one of the longest-running murder cases in Taiwan's history, and his acquittal falls exactly 20 years after the alleged murder. Huang Chun-chi and Chen Yi-lung remain on death row.