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Vietnamese octogenarian spends 43 years clearing his name of false murder charge

Monday, August 15, 2016, 18:17 GMT+7

An 80-year-old man from the northern Vietnamese province of Bac Ninh has been unable to find justice after being wrongfully convicted of murdering his cousin over forty years ago.

Tran Van Them, a resident of Yen Phu Commune, Yen Phong District, Bac Ninh, has lived the last 43 years as a convicted murderer after the local judiciary failed to issue any official announcement regarding his innocence following his wrongful conviction.

A delegation from the Supreme People’s Court led by Deputy Chief Judge Bui Ngoc Hoa, along with representatives of several provincial judicial agencies, have visited and encouraged Them as well as looking into his case.

The incident began 46 years ago when Them and his younger cousin, Nguyen Khac Van, went to Tam Duong District in the northern province of Vinh Phuc to sell pipe tobacco.

While the two were resting at a local barber shop at night after finishing their work, they were attacked by a robber.

Them and his cousin both resisted, scared the thief away, and got themselves wounded during the process. Van was stabbed with a metal stick and Them suffered a head injury.  

Them was holding the weapon when local residents came to the place while Van succumbed to his stab wound on his way to the hospital.

Despite his serious head injury, Them was accused of killing his own cousin for money.

During a trial in 1973, the People’s Court in Vinh Phuc sentenced Them to death for Van’s murder, before the decision was overturned by the Supreme People’s Court in Hanoi a year later.

By 1975, he had been transferred to a detention camp of the Hanoi Department of Police as another suspect was arrested and admitted responsibility for killing Van and injuring Them.

Them was later released and returned to his family without his name being officially cleared.

“I have been living with the injustice and shame for the past 43 years, being called a killer by my neighbors and even my relatives,” Them said.

Van’s family have also avoided meeting him as they believed that he had bribed officers in order to be set free early.

Them had previously asked his children to take him to Hanoi to seek his justice but he was refused by multiple agencies, for he carried no official documents relating to the case.

Contradictory details

Ever since, Them and his grandson, Tran Van Nam, have been collecting all the necessary paperwork, including the case file and evidence of his imprisonment and wrongful conviction.

They had to request a confirmation from Judge Ta Thi Minh Tam, who led his trial in Vinh Phuc, and the two police officers who were tasked with the investigation.

During an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Cu Van Tien, a former official of the Vinh Phuc Department of Police, recalled receiving Them’s case in 1974.

Tien said he discovered several indications of Them’s innocence during the investigation and asked for the excavation of Van’s body for examination.

Results of the exam, along with evidence recorded at the crime scene, revealed that there were several contradictory details in the case, according to Tien.

After Phan Thanh Nhan, 17 at the time, admitted he had been the attacker, Tien and his colleagues concluded that Them was innocent.

“Them was granted his freedom on December 29, 1975 but I am surprised to hear that no announcement regarding his wrongful conviction has ever been issued,” Tien said.

Conclusion to be reached this week

With the help of his lawyer and confirmation from witnesses, Them has requested the judiciary clear his name and demanded compensation, yet has still encountered difficulty.

In 2006, the local judiciary said that the case file had been lost as the incident occurred during the war in the 1970s.

By 2014, Them’s lawyer had managed to retrieve the case document from records at the Bac Ninh Department of Police.

Following Them’s relentless requests, the Supreme People’s Court decided to deal with the incident.

A meeting is expected to be convened this week for officials to reach a conclusion on Them’s case, Deputy Chief Judge Hoa confirmed.

With regard to Nhan, the alleged murderer, Hoa said that he escaped from his cell in 1974 and was later shot dead during another robbery.

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