In a last-minute decision, a court in the Mekong Delta province of Long An on Thursday halted the lethal injection of a 29-year-old man for a grisly murder of two local women after his dogged mother has relentlessly appealed to high places.
Ho Duy Hai is set for lethal injection Friday. In an appeal sent to the Long An’s People’s Court on Thursday morning, his family called for the delay in the execution, saying more time was needed to prove his innocence.
Le Quang Hung, the provincial deputy chief justice, told Thanh Nien News the court agreed to shelve the lethal injection after getting the approval from the Supreme People’s Court. Central authorities said late Thursday that President Truong Tan Sang ordered the delay.
Hai’s mother, Nguyen Thi Loan, said she has sent stacks of documents to appeal to a raft of agencies concerned in Hanoi over the past six years.
In April 2009, a court of appeals in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the death sentence against Hai, who was convicted of robbing and murdering two female post office staffs a year earlier.
According to the verdict, Hai, from Long An Province’s Thu Thua District, killed Nguyen Thi Thu Van, 21, and Nguyen Thi Anh Hong, 23, at the Cau Voi Post Office in the district where the duo were on duty on the night of January 13, 2008.
Hai, an acquaintance of the victims, had asked Van to go out and buy some fruits at around 7 pm on that day, the verdict said.
It said after Van left, Hai wanted to have sex with Hong but she refused. He then hit her head with a chopping-board to make her unconscious before slitting her throat. When Van returned, Hai used an inox chair to hit her head, leaving her unconscious. He also slit her throat.
According to the verdict, Hai had also stolen VND1.4 million (US$66), around 50 SIM cards, one mobile phone and jewelry from the victims.
But after the verdict was delivered, Hai’s lawyer Tran Hong Phong and his counterparts said they found a slew of “unusual details” in the case.
“The most unusual thing is that fingerprints collected at the crime scene did not match Ho Duy Hai's [based on official forensic tests],” Tran Van Tao, a HCMC-based seasoned lawyer and former deputy director of the city’s police department, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Nguyen Minh Tam, deputy secretary general of the Vietnam Bar Association, said his agency would propose the Supreme People’s Court reconsider this case.
“A case with such dubious details needs to be reconsidered to prevent a wrongful conviction,” Tuoi Tre quoted Tam as saying on Thursday.
It remains to be seen how this case unfolds.
Only the chief justice of the Supreme People's Court or the head of the Supreme's People Procuracy -- Vietnam's highest prosecutors' agency -- have the mandate to order the setting up of a panel to review the case. This panel will determine whether fresh investigations are needed.
In 2012, Hai sent an appeal to President Truong Tan Sang asking for clemency. Sang rejected the appeal.
Miscarriages of justice in Vietnam have been found on the rise in recent years.
The most recent high-profile case happened to Nguyen Thanh Chan, 54, of the northern province of Bac Giang.
Chan was found guilty of murdering a local woman and was sentenced to life in prison in March 2004. Four months later, the Supreme People's Court dismissed his appeal and upheld the sentence.
But his wife’s persistent investigation forced the real murderer, another local man, to give himself up in October 2013. Chan was released a month later and the Supreme People's Court officially cleared his name in January this year.
In what was Vietnam’s first public review of police torture in September, Truong Trong Nghia, an outspoken lawmaker who is also vice chairman of the Vietnam Bar Association, condemned the practice as a threat to the integrity and stability of the regime.
“Wrongful verdicts, threats and torture are critical threats to the system itself. The [victims'] descendants will hold us accountable,” he said at the meeting, called by the National Assembly -- Vietnam’s legislature.
Vietnam switched to lethal injection from the firing squad in November 2011.
However, an European Union refusal to sell Vietnam the deadly injection led to a delay in executions until August 2013, when Vietnam began manufacturing its own lethal serum.
At that time, the number of death-row prisoners was reported to hover 600.
The EU banned the exportation of lethal injection drugs because it regards capital punishment to be a violation of human rights.
Although there are no official statistics, the death penalty is most frequently handed down in Vietnam to those convicted of drug offences and murder.