Nguyen Thanh Chan’s 2004 murder and robbery convictions have been voided by Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court after his wife tracked down the man who actually committed the crimes.
Chan was 42 when arrested on September 28, 2003 for the murder of a 31-year-old woman on August 15 in the village of Nghia Trung in Vietnam’s Bac Giang district. Her assailant stole jewelry and money from her home.
Chan was convicted on March 26, 2004 based on that his “left foot nearly fit the footprints left at the scene,” he “showed dubious signs on the day of the incident,” and his confession, which he retracted as coerced by police beating him and threatening him with a knife.
Chan was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison because of his father’s contributions in the revolution that united North and South Vietnam.
After Chan’s conviction his wife, Thi Chien, campaigned for his innocence and investigated his case on her own. In addition to trying to help her husband Chien had to deal with supporting and raising the couple’s four children, and the social stigma of Chan’s convicted crimes.
On July 5, 2013 she filed a petition with the authorities that included information identifying the actual murderer was 25-year-old Ly Nguyen Chung who lived in the same village as Chan and the victim. The police investigated Chien’s information and questioned Chung’s step-mother and brother, who both provided a statement he had blood on his shirt the day of the crime and they believed he was the actual killer. After Chung eluded police for almost four months, he was arrested on October 25, 2013. Chung confessed to the crime during his police interrogation, saying his motive was to rob the victim. On October 29, 2013 Chung was charged with murder and robbery. Because Chung was 14 at the time of the crimes he was to be prosecuted as a juvenile.
Based on the new evidence of his innocence Chan was released from prison on November 4, 2013, pending his retrial. Now 52, he returned that same day to his village and was greeted by a large crowd.
Chan told reporters after his release: “I feel as if I am born again. During the past 10 years in prison, I always hoped that I would be vindicated one day.”
On November 6, 2013 a retrial by the Council of the Supreme People’s Court voided Chan’s convictions and sentence. Chan has the right to sue the District Court, the Circuit Court of Appeals, and request compensation from the Supreme People’s Court that can include damages from property infringement, damages caused by the actual income loss or reduction, and damages for losses due to compromised mental and physical health.
After the Court announced its ruling Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang requested an investigation to determine if there were violations of the law by individuals and organizations involved in procuring Chan’s false confession. Colonel Nguyen Van Chuc, Office Manager and Spokesman of Bac Giang Province’s Police told reporters, “It is illegal for any investigator to carry out coercive methods in retrieving testimony.”