JIADEP NOTE: Wreckless Policing: Coercing confessions from the elderly and family members.
Inmate arrested over 1997 murder in Chiba

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Police explain the background behind the mistaken arrests over the 1997 murder of Yumi Tajima in Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture, at Nagareyama Police Station on Jan. 18, 2012. (Mainichi)

CHIBA -- Police investigating the 1997 killing of a woman in the Chiba Prefecture city of Nagareyama served an arrest warrant against a 32-year-old prison inmate on Jan. 18 on suspicion of murder.

The man, who was 17 years old at the time of the killing, has reportedly confessed to the murder of 24-year-old Yumi Tajima, who was stabbed to death at her home in Nagareyama. A DNA test using the latest methods found his DNA to match that detected in evidence left at the scene of the crime.

"There's no doubt that I killed Tajima and stole a card from her," the man was quoted as telling investigators. He is currently serving a prison sentence over a separate attempted murder-robbery case. He surfaced as a suspect during a fresh police probe into cold cases.

The man, whose name has been withheld, is suspected of stealing a cash card from Tajima at her home between about 9:30 p.m. on May 17 and 8:30 a.m. on May 19, 1997, and stabbing her in the back, causing her do die from loss of blood.

Investigators quoted the man as saying, "I broke in to steal something, but it looked like Tajima was going to report me on her mobile phone, so I stabbed her with a knife that was in her home." The man, who was unemployed at the time, was living with his mother in the same district, and he had knowledge of the area, police said.

After the attack, a person was captured on a security camera withdrawing about 200,000 yen from Tajima's bank account using Tajima's cash card. His physical features matched those of the arrested inmate and police suspect the inmate withdrew the money.

The man was arrested in 1999 on suspicion of robbery resulting in injury, and attempted murder, among other charges. Police accused him of breaking into an apartment in Kashiwa with an accomplice, and threatening a 20-year-old woman inside, then stealing money and a cash card from her and setting her apartment on fire in an attempt to kill her. He was found guilty and was serving a prison sentence in Miyagi Prefecture when police served him the arrest warrant over Tajima's murder.

Chiba Prefectural Police set up a special investigation squad last spring with 50 officers reviewing past investigations. The inmate surfaced as a suspect in the killing of Tajima due to the similarities in the methods used in the two crimes. Police had not obtained the man's DNA at the time of the crime in 1999, but they took a sample in January this year.

During the initial stages of the investigation, police arrested Tajima's grandmother and her sister and brother-in-law on suspicion of murder, but the Chiba District Public Prosecutors Office did not indict them due to lack of evidence. In a news conference on Jan. 18 a police official apologized over the arrests, saying they were mistaken. The official said police had apologized to Tajima's sister and brother-in-law and others involved. Tajima's grandmother died in 2010.

At the time of the crime police said Tajima's mother had confessed to the crime, and cited her motivation as "family trouble."

"The grandmother's statements did not conflict with the results of the investigation, and there was circumstantial evidence suggesting that the three were involved," the official said. However, when asked if there was any objective evidence to implicate the three in the crime, the official admitted, "There was nothing that matched."

The official said that police at the time had placed more emphasis on confessions.

"If the investigation had gone into more depth with regard to objective evidence, such as with DNA tests, it might have turned out differently," he said.

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(Mainichi Japan) January 19, 2012