Saturday, September 14, 2013

Q.E.D. volume 27 review

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Q.E.D., vol. 27, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Toyokichi conducts an on-site arson sweep class.)

Kyouzou (Mirror Image, Great Magazine, 2007). The story starts out with Kana standing in front of a mirror, being asked why her reflection is only reversed left for right, and not up for down. It switches to a house fire. Det. Mizuhara is assigned to determine if it's arson, and Kana has forced Touma to peddle her to the crime scene on a bike to deliver a box lunch to her father. At the scene, veteran arson investigator Toyokichi Sakuma is trying to teach a bunch of new students how to sift through the evidence to determine what had been at the scene before the fire destroyed it. He warns the group to not rely on any preconceptions. As the case proceeds, the investigators learn that the house had been owned by a guy named Terauchi. His wife had been cheating on him, so they'd divorced, with each parent keeping one of their twin daughters, Reiko and Hanako. Terauchi left the house to Reiko when he died a year ago from cancer. Hanako's mother was abandoned by her lover and she turned alcoholic, with Hanako having to give up school to support herself in a sweatshop as a seamstress. Reiko and Hanako are identical twins, and the only distinguishing feature is a mole on their chins (on the left for Reiko, the right for Hanako). They currently hate each other, and have been fighting over the possession of a Santa gnome statue that their father had bought as a souvenir on a business trip decades ago. Reiko had been trying to sell the house, but none of the potential buyers want the place since it's still furnished. Reiko refused to remove her father's possessions until after the 1-year anniversary of his death. In fact, it's the anniversary now. The suspects are: Hanako, who wants to take the house and statue away from her sister; Reiko, who can make more money selling just the land if the house is gone; the real estate agent, who gets his commission if he can make the sale; and some woman acting as the caretaker for the house.

(3 of the 4 prime suspects, plus Toyokichi.)

Adding to the drama, the arson investigator, Sakuma, is getting close to retirement, and he wants to close this case with a spotless record, while his daughter is trying to force him into preparing for the first overseas trip he and his wife have taken in years. If he fails to get his passport because he's preoccupied with the case, his wife may divorce him. Touma figures everything out, and chides Sakuma for having kept his own preconceptions. So, the questions are: What happened to the statue, which was never found? Who set the fire? Or, was it an accident? Why was the frame of a mirror found on the second floor, soaked in lantern oil? Why would there be a floor-length mirror in Terauchi's study? And what does the reflection from a mirror have to do with solving the case?

The only real science is in the description of how the human brain interprets visual signals from a mirror, but there is a short introduction to forensic science as it applies to reconstructing the scene of a fire.

Risshou Sekinin (Juror Duty, Great Magazine, 2007). A group of students are roaming the school with a laptop. Each student they encounter is required to press the space bar for random selection to an upcoming school event. On impluse, Kana presses the space bar for Touma, and he's randomly chosen for the event. She then presses the key for herself and is also selected. The event is being put on by the government to introduce students to the (at the time) new idea of lay judges. To combat the decline in trained judges and increasing court cases, Japan instituted a system where citizens are randomly picked to sit in on trials as "lay judges". The trial includes a court-certified legal judge, who can override the decisions of the lay judges if necessary. The school is putting on a mock trial that all students have to watch in the auditorium. 6 of the students are to act as lay judges. There are 3 real judges, and actors portray the defense and prosecution, defendant and witnesses. When the mock trial starts, everyone believes the defendent is guilty just because of his looks. But the testimony muddies the waters up, and in the end, there's no clear solution.

(The defendant, chief judge and prosecutor.)

The defendant is accused of stalking a woman that had visited a bank to withdraw money from an ATM, and then attacking her in an alley. A witness claims to have heard the guy yelling, but not the woman, and he hadn't seen the attacker's face. A description of the attacker is given to the police, and the defendant was spotted loitering in a nearby park by a bicycle patrol cop. When the cop approached, the defendant ran but was apprehended with the money. The defendant claims that he'd found the money and was debating what to do with it, and he'd ran because he was falsely arrested by the police once before. When it comes time to make a ruling, most of the lay judges and the real ones say "not guilty". Touma is about to decide "guilty", but he changes his mind halfway through. When it's all over, the actors talk about how hard their roles had been, and Kana asks the chief judge what the official answer is supposed to be. But, the chief sees Touma and rushes over to ask the boy why he changed his mind. With all of the mock trials he'd given up until now, this was the first time that anyone had hesitated like that. Usually, the student judges say "not guilty" while the real ones rule "guilty". The chief judge wants to know what is going through the lay judges' minds when they make a "not guilty" assessment. Touma answers that it's likely that the reason the victim hadn't screamed during the assault is that she knew her attacker. That the defendant is the woman's boyfriend and he was demanding money from her to cover his own bills. Touma would have ruled "guilty", except that the chief judge's admonition to the students was "to not make assumptions, vote based on the presented facts". Touma walks away, leaving the judge to ponder whether he'd been violating his own instructions.

No science. But it is an interesting view into Japan's new lay judge system.

Comments: Not much to add here this time. The "jury's still out" on whether the lay judge system is working correctly or not. Occasionally, the newspapers still report on high profile cases involving lay judges, and it's a big deal when one of the certified judges overturns a lay judge decision. Recommended.

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