A court in the southern province of Binh Phuoc on Saturday handed down a life sentence to a man for raping and killing an 11-year-old girl, after reversing its death penalty verdict of 2005 and acquitting him in 2011.
According to the latest hearing held by the Binh Phuoc People's Court, Le Ba Mai, 31, persuaded Thi Ut to accompany him on his motorbike to a jackfruit orchard, raped her, and strangled her to death with her trousers on November 12, 2004.
Mai was also ordered to pay around VND81 million (US$3,870) in compensation to Ut's family.
Even though there were "several shortcomings," in the case's records, the board of judges said, they did not affect the truth. They also said that witnesses' testimony confirmed that Mai had committed the crime.
In May 2011, that same court declared that Mai was not guilty, saying that there was insufficient evidence to convict him. That trial was held after the Supreme People's Court ordered a fresh investigation into the case in February 2007.
The Supreme Court made the order following the appeal of the nation's highest prosecutorial agency, the People's Supreme Procuracy, which said that provincial investigators made many mistakes like a failure to preserve evidence collected at the crime scene and errors included in the written records.
It also found contradictions in the testimony of Thi Hang, the sole eyewitness, as well as those between Mai's testimony in his earlier confession with police, and records from the original crime scene investigation and other evidence.
In fact, Mai has maintained his innocence since the first trial in 2005, saying that his confession was beaten out of him.
Two trials in March and May 2005 both saw the man convicted and sentenced to death.
Speaking to Thanh Nien after the latest hearing, Mai's lawyer, Trinh Thanh, said the verdict was "not satisfying." He said the judges showed they "did not care about the case's truth" by convicting Mai based exclusively on the testimony of witnesses.
During the hearing, Thanh presented to the court evidence he said he had collected over the past eight years proving Mai's innocence.
Duong Ba Tuan, owner of the farm where Mai worked before the crime happened, and who acted as the representative for his family, said that he would ask Mai's family to appeal the latest verdict.
On the other hand, an official with Binh Phuoc People's Procuracy told Thanh Nien that the office of prosecutors will probably also file an appeal, seeking a "stricter" punishment for Mai.
The case has become one of the most controversial cases in the country.
Many critics say the case reflects the weaknesses of the Vietnamese criminal justice system.
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