Japan has ordered the retrial of its longest-serving death row inmate


Tokyo’s top court on Monday ordered the retrial of an 87-year-old former boxer on death row more than five decades after he was convicted of murder, which his lawyers say was based on a coerced confession and fabricated evidence.

The Tokyo High Court has ruled that Iwao Hakamada deserves a retrial because it is possible that key evidence that led to his conviction could have been tampered with by investigators, the Japan Bar Association said in a statement.

Amnesty International states that Hakamada is the world’s longest serving death row inmate.

He has been on parole since 2014, but has yet to be cleared of the charges when the Shizuoka District Court in central Japan suspended his execution and ordered a retrial. That decision was overturned by the Tokyo High Court until the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider in 2020.

His defense attorneys left the courtroom and held up “Retrial” signs.

“We won his double trial. I’m very happy and that’s all I can say,” said his 90-year-old sister Hideko, who devoted her life to proving her brother’s innocence.

Hakamada was found guilty in 1966 of murdering a company manager and three members of his family and setting fire to their home in central Japan, where he was a full-time employee. Two years later, he was sentenced to death. He initially denied the allegations, then confessed to what he later said was coerced by police interrogation.

Hakamada was not sentenced to death due to a lengthy appeals and retrial process. It took 27 years for the Supreme Court to reject his first appeal for review. He filed a second appeal in 2008, and the court finally ruled in his favor on Thursday.

At issue were five blood-stained items of clothing that investigators said Hakamada allegedly wore during the crime and were hidden in a tank of fermented soy paste, or miso, that was found more than a year after his arrest.

A Tokyo High Court ruling on Monday upheld scientific evidence that clothing soaked in miso for more than a year turns too dark to detect bloodstains, saying there was a possibility of fabrication, most likely by investigators.

Defense attorneys and earlier rulings in the retrial said blood samples did not match Hakamada’s DNA, and the pants prosecutors introduced into evidence were too small for Hakamada and did not fit when he tried them on.

Hakamada has been serving his sentence at home since his release in 2014 because his frail health and age made him a low escape risk.

Japan and the United States are the only two countries of the Group of Seven advanced nations that retain the death penalty. A survey by the Japanese government found that the vast majority supported public executions.

In Japan, executions are carried out in secret, and prisoners are not informed of their fate until the morning they are hanged. Since 2007, Japan has begun releasing the names of those executed and some details of their crimes, but disclosures are still limited.

Supporters say Hakamada’s mental health has suffered from his nearly half-century of detention, mostly in solitary confinement, due to fear of the death penalty. He spent a total of 48 years in prison, more than 45 of which were sentenced to death.

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