Lawyer Tran Hong Phong and relatives of death row inmate Ho Duy Hai stand outside the Supreme People’s Court in Hanoi on May 6. They are hoping Hai will be freed after a jury sees new evidence. (Photo courtesy of Luat Khoa Tap Chi)
Vietnam’s top court is reviewing a hotly disputed case of a prominent death row inmate whose relatives and activists have fought to prove his innocence for more than a decade.
On May 6, the Supreme People’s Court in Hanoi started an estimated three-day trial of Ho Duy Hai, who was found guilty of murder in 2008 and has been sitting on death row since then.
State-run Cong Ly newspaper quoted Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh, who leads a 17-member jury and is presiding at the special trial, as saying that the murder case is extremely serious and causing public concern.
Hai, then 23, was convicted of murdering two female postal staff and robbing their properties at Cau Voi Post Office in Long An province. He was sentenced to death by a Long An provincial court in 2008 and an appeals court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the death sentence the following year.
The newspaper reported that Binh said the jury would ensure a fair and correct judgment and that no criminals escape from justice.
It said the jury would review, reassess and challenge the legality of the case documents, especially documents and evidence appealed last year by the Supreme People’s Procuracy. They would also dispute and clarify new evidence and documents given by other agencies.
Lawyer Tran Hong Phong, who represents the defendant, told reporters outside the court that he was only allowed to present new evidence and information to the jury for 30 minutes and was asked to leave the trial.
He said he and his client’s relatives filed documents to denounce Nguyen Van Nghi, a friend of one victim, as a suspect and to accuse authorities of incorrect case records.
Hai and his relatives were not present in the courtroom, which only some journalists were allowed to enter.
Hai’s mother Nguyen Thi Loan, who is following the trial from outside the building, said she had awaited a retrial for 12 years after filing 2,000 petitions and complaints to all levels of government to intervene in the case of her innocent son.
“I wish the trial will make a fair judgement and bring good news to my son. He must be declared to be free and justice must be returned to him,” she said.
Loan and her daughter sold their properties to file complaints to the local government and travel to Thailand to petition international rights groups.
“My son did not commit the murder. He was given a death sentence to replace the real killer,” Loan said.
She said there were many shortcomings in the investigation. No time of death for the two victims was ever established, the murder weapons were misplaced by the forensic team, witnesses gave inconsistent testimonies, and fingerprints found at the crime scene did not match Hai’s.
She said court officials violated the laws as they failed to invite any witnesses to be present at the previous trials.
One day before Hai was to be executed on Dec. 5, 2014, then president Truong Tan Sang ordered suspension of the execution and demanded other agencies to probe the case carefully.
The following year, the high-profile case drew the attention of the National Assembly’s Committee on Judicial Affairs, which confirmed that “there were serious violations committed by police and the prosecution in Hai’s case.”
In 2018, activists filed petitions signed by 25,000 signatories to then president Tran Dai Quang declaring that Hai was innocent. Last year Amnesty International sent a petition letter to President Nguyen Phu Trong calling for Hai’s acquittal.
In November 2019, the Supreme People’s Procuracy asked the Supreme Court to cancel the two previous sentences and reinvestigate the case.