As the only surviving sibling of three men who were falsely accused of stealing 38 years ago, Trinh Dan Cuong said his greatest pain is his broken family and lost education opportunities for his children.
Cuong lives alone in a small house spanning just 10 square meters, nestled deep within an alley of HCMC’s District 6. He has been living this way for several years in the house that a relative gave him. As he adjusted his tattered sleeves, the 66-year-old man brought out a box of personal items, documents and old newspapers.
The documents and evidence were about a criminal case in which four police officers falsely accused Cuong and his two brothers-in-law of a crime they did not commit 38 years earlier. But even until today, that tarnish on his name remains. He has yet to to be given an apology and he has not received any compensation.
“These papers were given to me by people at the time. I’m illiterate, but I know what these papers say by heart,” Cuong said. “The police officers who made the false accusations have been put on trial, my two brothers have died, and I have yet to receive an apology.”
On February 28, 1985, Cuong, along with Ha Van Duoc and Tran Duc An, were arrested by police of District 6 following a neighbor’s report that their gold, cash and jewelry were stolen. Despite being suspected of committing the crime, Cuong, Duoc and An all proclaimed their innocence throughout the investigation.
Case files revealed that there were many signs showing that the crime scene had been tampered with, but Major Nguyen Huu Do, then the head of the criminal police force of District 6, “deliberately falsified documents to hide the fact that they arrested people without basis,” according to investigation.
The police of District 6 believed that Cuong and his brothers were unwilling to admit their crime, and so transferred the case to the HCMC police, causing the three to be put into the Chi Hoa Prison. As he was forced to confess to a crime he did not commit, Duoc committed suicide in prison on April 8, 1985.
Cuong’s mother-in-law, Dong Thi Ba, then filed complaints with the city authorities, who investigated the case.
Cuong said that before his arrest, his family and his two brothers lived in the same house with Ba. In order to secure enough money to proclaim the men’s innocence, Ba had to sell the house. An was set free a year before Cuong, but he had a weak constitution and could not work. Without a home, he lived under a bridge until the day he died.
“Everything’s gone, there’s nothing left,” said Cuong.
When they died, Duoc had one daughter, while An had three children.
“After we got entangled with the case,” Cuong continued, “the children didn’t get to go to school. I don’t know how their wives and kids are doing now.”
By the time he was released from prison, Cuong’s wife had already remarried, while his children stayed with their maternal grandmother. His health had already deteriorated due to all the beatings and isolation and emotional trauma he had suffereed, and so he decided to move back to his mother’s house.
But his greatest loss was the fact that his father got ill and died, less than a month after his arrest.
“My father was not happy about my wife and wanted to prevent our marriage,” said Cuong. “When I was arrested, that got worse as he believed that because I followed my wife’s family, I did something bad. He died without ever knowing that I was innocent.”
Police of District 6 gave Cuong a cyclo as a tool to make ends meet out of sympathy. But after a while, he got sick and had to sell the cyclo to buy medicine. After dozens of years of working odd jobs, Cuong was no longer able to work, and so entered a pagoda and helped with cooking meals.
“When things got too tough, I would go to a crossroad at midnight and sit there,” he said. “People sometimes give me money.”
Ever since he was released, Cuong has multiple times filed complaints to the police and prosecutors of District 6, demanding an apology and compensation for the false accusation, but his complaints have remained unanswered.
About two years ago, some lawyers provided him with legal support and sued prosecutors of District 6 to restore his honor, issue a public apology and give him compensation.
The People’s Court of District 6 has accepted the case, and the parties are expected to be summoned to a hearing on February 14.
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