Tokyo [Japan], March 14: Tokyo's High Court ordered a retrial on Monday for an 87-year-old former boxer, dubbed the world's longest-serving death row inmate, nearly six decades after he was convicted of murder. Lawyers for IwaoHakamada left the court after a brief session and unfurled banners reading "retrial" as supporters shouted "Free Hakamada now!" "I was waiting for this day for 57 years and it has come," said Hakamada's sister Hideko, 90, who has campaigned tirelessly on her brother's behalf.
"Finally a weight has been lifted from my shoulders," she said. Hakamada spent nearly five decades on death row, and was certified the world's longest-serving death row inmate, before a lower court ordered a retrial and freed him while his case proceeded.
He was sentenced to death in 1968 for robbing and murdering his boss, the man's wife and their two teenage children. He initially denied the accusations but later confessed after what he subsequently claimed was a brutal police interrogation that included beatings.
His attempts to retract the confession were in vain and his verdict was confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1980. After a prolonged battle, a district court in the central city of Shizuoka granted a retrial in 2014, finding investigators could have planted evidence.
But Tokyo's High Court overturned the lower court ruling four years later, and the case was sent to the Supreme Court on appeal. There, judges ruled in 2020 that the Tokyo High Court must reconsider its decision.
One key piece of evidence used to convict him was a set of blood-stained clothes that emerged more than a year after the crime. Supporters say the clothes did not fit him and the bloodstains were too vivid given the time elapsed.
DNA tests found no link between Hakamada, the clothes and the blood but the High Court rejected the testing methods. National broadcaster NHK said the court's presiding judge Fumio Daizen cast doubt on the credibility of the clothes as evidence.
"There is no evidence other than the clothes that could determine Hakamada was the perpetrator, so it is clear that reasonable doubt arises," NHK quoted him as saying. Japan is the only major industrialised democracy other than the United States to retain capital punishment, which is always carried out by hanging.
The death penalty still enjoys broad public support and debate on the issue is rare. Supporters say nearly 50 years of detention, mostly in solitary confinement with the ever-present threat of execution, took a heavy toll on Hakamada's mental health.
He told AFP in 2018 he felt he was "fighting a bout every day". His sister Hideko told a news conference later on Monday she does not talk about the trials with him. "I will only tell him to rest assured, because we got a good result," she said.
"Now, I just need to make sure I can see the retrial begin." The process for a retrial could take years if a special appeal is filed, however, and lawyers have been protesting against this system. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations welcomed Monday's ruling but said in a statement it "strongly demands prosecutors swiftly start the retrial process without issuing a special appeal to the Supreme Court".
"We cannot afford any further delay to remedy Mr Hakamada, who has an advanced age of 87 and suffers mental and physical conditions after 47 years of physical restraint," association head Motoji Kobayashi said.
Rights group Amnesty International also welcomed the decision as a "long-overdue chance to deliver some justice". "Hakamada's conviction was based on a forced 'confession' and there are serious doubts about the other evidence used against him," said Hideaki Nakagawa, director of Amnesty International Japan. - AFP
Source: Kuwait Times