On the night of March 23, 1991, Yeh In-lan and her husband, Wu Ming-han, were stabbed to death in their home in Hsichih. On October 17, the police arrested a marine named Wang Wen-hsiao based on a matching fingerprint found at the crime scene. Wang Wen-hsiao confessed to having committed the murders by himself, but, due to the brutality of the killings, the police refused to believe he was the sole perpetrator. After prolonged interrogations and suspected torture by the police, he revised his original confession to include his brother, Wang Wen-Chong, and three acquaintances whose names he did not even know.
The police immediately arrested Wang Wen-Chong without obtaining a warrant and tortured him in order to force a confession. Under duress, he identified the three unnamed acquaintances as Su Chien-ho, Chuang Lin-hsu, and Liu Bin-lang. These three came to be known as the Hsichih Trio. Wang Wen-Chong confessed to acting as the lookout while his brother and the other three committed the murders. He was sentenced to two years in prison. After his release, he recanted his confessions, alleging that the police tortured him into naming three innocent acquaintances. Wang Wen-Hsiao was executed on January 11, 1992. The Hsichih Trio were not afforded an opportunity to cross examine him prior to his execution.
After incessant interrogation and torture, the Hsichih Trio were forced to sign involuntary confessions. Liu Bing-Lang later recounted that the police forced him to hold a phone book to his chest while they struck him repeatedly with a hammer. They also hung him upside down and poured water and urine down his throat. All three recalled being beaten and waterboarded with urine. Su Chien-ho and Chuang Lin-hsu described having their genitals electrocuted. According to Su Chien-Ho, the police then applied menthol oil to his wounds.
In February of 1992, the district court sentenced the Hsichih Trio to death based solely on these coerced confessions and the problematic statements from the Wang brothers. The High Court affirmed the verdict, but the Supreme Court remanded for retrial twice. In October 1994, the High Court sentenced the three to death for the third time, and the Supreme Court confirmed the verdict in February 1995. Each of the three received two death sentences.
A Control Yuan Commissioner, Chang Te-Ming, began an investigation into alleged wrongdoings in the case in March of 1995 and submitted a report in June which confirmed serious flaws at all levels from the Hsichih Police Branch, Shilin District Court, to the High Court. The Prosecutor General submitted an extraordinary appeal three times in February, March, and July of 1995. Consecutive Ministers of Justice refused to sign their execution orders. The Hsichih Trio attracted widespread attention and assistance both domestically and internationally. NGOs including but not limited to the Humanistic Education Foundation and the Taiwan Association for Human Rights organized a team to redress this grave miscarriage of justice. Amnesty International issued several urgent statements and asked for its members to send letters to the Taiwanese government to suspend the Trio’s executions.
After a number of applications from the defense attorneys, the High Court finally granted a retrial on November 16, 2000. The Trio was found not guilty for the first time on January 13, 2003 and immediately released. At the time of their release, they had been in custody and deprived of their freedom for more than eleven years. The prosecutors, however, appealed to the Supreme Court, and the case was again remanded for retrial.
At retrial, the High Court invited world-renowned forensic scientist, Dr. Henry Lee, to come testify as an expert witness. Dr. Lee raised eighteen (18) new points of evidence based on trace evidence from the crime scene, but, in their decision, the court found his evidence to lack credibility when compared with conflicting evidence presented by the Ministry of Justice’s Institute of Forensic Medicine. On June 29, 2007, the High Court again sentenced them to death, sparking renewed controversy.
Upon appeal to the Supreme Court, the case was again remanded for retrial. In 2008, the High Court officially commissioned Dr. Lee to conduct a crime scene reconstruction. Dr. Lee’s subsequent report concluded that the murders were most likely committed by Wang Wen-Hsiao alone. On November 12, 2010, the High Court found the Trio not guilty on all counts.
After the prosecution appealed to the Supreme Court, in April of 2011, the case was again remanded to the High Court. On August 31, 2012, the High Court issued a not guilty for the third time. Article 8 of the Speedy Criminal Trials Act, which was passed in May of 2010 and came into effect on September 1 of the same year, states that: “A case shall not be appealed to the Supreme Court if it is more than six years from the date the case is pending in the first instance and after being remanded by the Supreme Court for the third time, the court of second instance upholds the not guilty judgment rendered by the first instance or its not guilty judgment has been upheld by courts of the same instance for more than twice before remanding.”
Far more than six years have passed between the first trial in 1991 and the not guilty verdict in 2012. The Supreme Court remanded the case a total of five times: in April of 1993, July of 1994, August of 2003, November of 2007, and April of 2011. The High Court issued not guilty verdicts in January of 2003, November of 2010, and August of 2012. As such, the case can no longer be appealed to the Supreme Court. The case, which has dragged on for 21 years and 5 months, has finally come to a close.
This case has been Taiwan’s most controversial criminal case ever. It has prompted a revolution in criminal procedure law regarding confessions and interrogations. Civil society’s activism awakened the Taiwanese public’s concern for the Hsichih Trio case and forced the High Court to hold a press conference in March of 1996 in order to endorse the Trio’s death sentence. Through vigorous public discourse, the Taiwanese public started to critically consider the defects of the judicial system and search for ways to reform. It can be said that this case spearheaded the movement for judicial reform in Taiwan.
In 1995, a real estate businessman named Huang Chun-shu was kidnapped and murdered. On September 25, 1995, police arrested Huang Chun-Chi in Taoyuan, who claimed that he had two accomplices: Chen Yi-lung and Hsu Tzu-chiang. On September 28, the police announced that they had solved the case, prompting Hsu Tzu-chiang to flee for fear of being tortured into a confession. He remained in hiding until June 24, 1996 when, accompanied by counsel, he surrendered to the Shilin District Court.
Ever since his case entered the High Court in December 1996, the murder charge has repeatedly bounced back and forth between the High Court and Supreme Court. This incessant game of case ping pong was largely due to the fact that new inconsistencies continued to appear over the course of the trials. Discrepancies and gaps permeated the entire case, particularly with regard to facts stated in the "confession", which were never fully investigated and thus never substantiated with material evidence. Nevertheless, his guilty verdict and death sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court on April 27, 2000.
Later, the Control Yuan released an Investigation Report, noting that the voluntariness of Huang Ming-chuan and Chen Yi-lung’s confessions were suspect. It also pointed out the courts' lack of attentiveness and negligence in pursuing further investigations.
In 2003, the JRF requested constitutional interpretation by the Judicial Yuan. In July 2004, the Grand Justices announced Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 582. The Prosecutor-General then filed its fifth extraordinary appeal of the case, and, in 2005, the Supreme Court finally reopened the case and sent it to the High Court for retrial.
The sixth retrial proceeded for four arduous years, culminating in a judgment on December 18, 2009, again sentencing Hsu Tzu-chiang to death.
In March 2010, the Supreme Court again reversed the High Court's decision and remanded the case for its seventh retrial, which began on April 8, 2010. Evidentiary hearings did not begin until the end of December. Chen Yi-Lung was not summoned to testify until August 5, 2011; Huang Chun-Chi did not testify until August 26, 2011. On November 25, the High Court found Hsu Tzu-Chiang guilty of kidnapping and blackmail but not guilty on the murder charge, thus sentencing him to life in prison.
The case reached the Supreme Court, which remanded for retrial on March 9, 2012. The eighth retrial began on March 27, 2012 at the High Court and concluded in less than two months on May 18. The High Court announced its verdict on May 18, just one day before the Speedy Criminal Trials Act took effect.
Hsu had already been in custody for sixteen years, which made him eligible for release under the Speedy Criminal Trials Act limiting the length of detention without a verdict to eight years. The case is still ongoing.
Chiou Ho-shun was first sentenced to death for the murder of a woman and the kidnapping and murder of a boy in 1989. He was one of 12 defendants the police held for four months, during which time they were subjected to torture and confessed to the murders. They later retracted their confessions. In 1994, two prosecutors and 10 police officers were punished for using torture to obtain confessions in one of the cases.
Chiou, considered the mastermind, has been detained for 23 years while his case was retried 11 times. The High Court would sentence him to death, but the Supreme Court would reject the sentence because of insufficient evidence or problems in the case.
Until recently there was no limit on how long defendants can be imprisoned or how many times they can be retried. But a new law came into effect in May, limiting the time a defendant can be held without a final verdict to eight years, meaning Chiou would have to be released this year.
Critics say that the looming law was the reason why the Supreme Court quickly made a final ruling on Chiou in 2011, sentencing him to death. And they believe it is the reason why so many more defendants were sentenced to death last year - judges simply did not want to have to release them, even though the courts had retried them for so many years without a final conviction.
Unwilling to apply for a presidential pardon as he insists he is innocent, Chiou could be executed at any time.
Amnesty International and a former UN special rapporteur on torture have raised serious concerns about this case, pointing to the torture, the long detention, and violation of the right to a fair trial.
In September 1996, a young girl was raped and murdered in the Taipei Da-An District Air Force Headquarters. Within a month, a 20 year-old Private First Class named Chiang Kuo-ching was determined to be the perpetrator. He was charged and tried in a military tribunal and, in August 1997, executed.
On January 28, 2011, the Taipei Prosecutor's Office summoned Hsu Rong-chou for questioning in relation to the case. Public debate surged immediately. The news of the real murderer emerging compelled society to face the horrifying fact that Chiang Kuo-ching had been wrongfully executed.
In fact, on May 12, 2010, the Control Yuan had already acted to correct the Ministry of Defense, demanding an extraordinary appeal and retrial for the Chiang case. They also ordered the Ministry to investigate and severely punish the personnel responsible for the miscarriage of justice. With regard to the criminal aspects, the Ministry of Justice transferred the matter to the Prosecutor-General of the Supreme Prosecutor's Office and the National Police Agency, directing them to continue investigating. However, the prosecutor's office of the Ministry of Defense's highest military court has not only failed to start investigations, they have also refused the petition for an extraordinary appeal filed by Chiang Kuo-Ching's family.
JRF has been involved with the case since February 1, 2011. JRF has assisted a team of pro bono lawyers assembled by the Chiang family to file a retrial petition with the military courts. Chiang's mother, acting as his administratrix, petitioned the military courts for a retrial, hoping for the courts to vacate her son's guilty verdict. She also hoped to pursue, to the full extent of the law, state compensation for her son's wrongful execution and criminal liability for those whose dereliction of duty led to this tragic miscarriage of justice.
On May 24, 2010, prosecutors chose not to indict ten air force officers who took part in the Chiang case on the procedural ground that the statute of limitations had passed for the relatively light crimes of intimidation (Criminal Code Article 305) and restriction of freedom (Criminal Code Article 304) to which the prosecutors confined their investigations.
At 9 am on September 13, 2011, the military court reopened Chiang’s case and issued a not guilty verdict. At the same time, the Ministry of Defense declared that they would give their full assistance to Chiang’s family in processing the case for state compensation.
The JRF issued a statement at 11 am, noting that the case has been ongoing since mid-July with the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office responsible for the investigation. If the officers involved were charged with murder (Criminal Code Article 125), abuse of power resulting in death (Criminal Code Article 271), or illegal custody resulting in death (Criminal Code Article 302) the statute of limitations would be greater than 20 years and thus would have yet to expire. Now that Chiang Kuo-Ching has been found to be innocent, the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office, charged with holding accountable those responsible for Chiang’s wrongful execution, should strengthen and accelerate their investigation so as to give society a clear and complete account. Regretfully, however, more than a year has passed since the High Prosecutors’ Office returned the case to the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office with directions to reopen investigations. This prolonged delay has resulted in increasingly sceptical public opinion and accusations of officials protecting one of their own at the expense of justice.
On October 26, 2011, following Chiang’s not guilty verdict on retrial, the military court granted the family compensation in the sum of TWD 103, 185, 000. The JRF believes, however, that monetary compensation alone cannot conclude the Chiang case. Rather, follow-up review and continued investigations are critical. Hopefully, society will continue to scrutinize the case’s developments and guide justice onto its rightful path.