President Truong Tan Sang has given agencies concerned a month to investigate whether a young man was wrongly convicted of murdering two local women following his mother’s relentless appeals that led to the last-minute delay in his execution.
Sang ordered the People’s Court of the Mekong Delta province of Long An to halt the execution of Ho Duy Hai on Thursday, just a day before the 29-year-old man was scheduled to receive a lethal injection.
“I have received an appeal from Nguyen Thi Loan, the mother of death row inmate Ho Duy Hai,” Sang said in a statement.
The President ordered the chief justice of the Supreme People's Court and the head of the Supreme's People Procuracy -- Vietnam's highest prosecutors' agency – to review Hai’s case to verify whether he was wrongfully convicted of a grisly double murder in Long An in 2008.
The results of the review must be reported by January 4, the statement said.
In April 2009, an appeals court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the death sentence against Hai, who was found guilty of robbing and murdering two female postal workers a year earlier.
After the verdict was delivered, Loan, Hai’s mother, said she spent the next six years sending lengthy written appeals to agencies throughout Hanoi.
According to the verdict, Hai, from Long An’s Thu Thua District, killed Nguyen Thi Thu Van, 21, and Nguyen Thi Anh Hong, 23, at the Cau Voi Post Office on the evening of January 13, 2008.
Hai, an acquaintance of the victims, had invited Van out for fruit at around 7:30 pm on the same day, the verdict said.
It said after Van stepped out, Hai attempted to seduce Hong but she refused his advances.
He then knocked her out with a cutting board and slit her throat. When Van returned, he knocked her unconscious with a metal chair and slit her throat, the verdict said.
According to the verdict, Hai stole VND1.4 million (US$66), around 50 SIM cards, one mobile phone and jewelry from his victims.
But Hai’s lawyer Tran Hong Phong and his counterparts maintained that there were a slew of inconsistencies in the case.
“The most unusual thing was that the fingerprints collected at the crime scene did not match Ho Duy Hai's [based on official forensic tests],” Tran Van Tao, a veteran HCMC lawyer and former deputy director of the city’s police department, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
At a press briefing held by the Long An’s People’s Court on Friday, reporters asked many questions about the case beginning with those about the fingerprints, but extending to the fact that those investigating Hai had purchased a cutting board and knife for use as evidence.
One reporter asked why the case file did not contain documents pertaining to the initial interviews with other suspects.
Le Quang Hung, the provincial deputy chief justice, did not answer these questions and maintained that it's now up to the chief justice of the Supreme People's Court and the head of the Supreme's People Procuracy, not the Long An court, to review this case.
Hung urged anyone with evidence to prove Hai’s innocence to submit it to the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme's People Procuracy.
Inconsistencies and failures of the Vietnamese criminal justice system have grown increasingly prevalent in recent years.
The most recent high-profile case involved 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.
Only his wife’s persistent appeals and one-woman 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.
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 government.
“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.