A Nepalese who spent 15 "horrible and torturous" years in a Japanese jail for a murder he did not commit was formally acquitted on Wednesday after a retrial.
Govinda Prasad Mainali, 46, was declared not guilty by the Tokyo High Court at a short hearing, even though he had been deported to Nepal weeks ago after his conviction was quashed.
The same court had in 2000 found him guilty of killing a 39-year-old woman and sentenced him to life in prison, overturning a lower court's not-guilty verdict.
The Supreme Court upheld Mainali's life sentence in 2003.
Mainali told reporters in Kathmandu that Wednesday's pronouncement was something for which he had been waiting a long time.
"To see this day, I have spent 15 years of my life inside the four walls, resorting to quiet communication with myself," he said.
"I have prayed to God and asked: what mistake have I committed? God was the only witness of my pleas."
The murder attracted lurid headlines, particularly in the tabloid press, which said the victim was leading a double life as an elite businesswoman at Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) by day and a prostitute by night.
Police in 1997 arrested Mainali, who knew the victim and lived near the Tokyo apartment where her strangled body was found.
Mainali, who had always maintained his innocence, officially asked Japan's slow-moving justice system for a retrial in 2005. It was granted only this year.
Fresh DNA evidence, also tested only this year, proved the original probe had overlooked the fact that semen found inside the woman was not Mainali's.
DNA samples collected from her nails as well as body hair found in the room were a match with the semen, further supporting Mainali's claim that he was not the killer, according to local media.
"I was forced to undergo 15 years of horrible and torturous time in jail despite being innocent," he said. "Had the DNA test not been conducted, I would have been languishing in jail and probably would have died there."
The case has led to media questioning of Japan's justice system and particularly the work of prosecutors, who take a leading role in criminal investigations.
Japan has a very high rate of convictions and relies heavily on confessions. Suspects can be held for many weeks while police make their case.
Critics say this leads to abuses where those arrested are ground down until they give investigators what they want.
Mainali was released from jail in June when his conviction was overturned. He was sent back to Nepal by immigration authorities because he had -- during his time in prison -- overstayed his visa.
But the court still went ahead with the retrial, which opened at the start of last week with the prosecution saying it now believed he was innocent.
After going into recess to consider the verdict, presiding judge Shoji Ogawa said there was "a reasonable doubt" that Mainali was the guilty party.
Mainali said he had not yet decided whether to seek compensation from Japanese authorities and was discusing his options with his lawyers.
No one else has been arrested in connection with the murder.© (C) 2012 AFP