The world’s longest-serving death row inmate has been given a new trial in Japan, 55 years after he was sentenced to be handed over for murder.
The Tokyo High Court ordered a new trial for former boxer Iwao Hakamada, 87, on Monday, nearly six decades after he was first convicted in 1968 after confessing to the murder of his boss and his family. He later said that he confessed under duress.
Hakamada’s lawyers left the courthouse after a brief session, unfurling banners reading “retrial” as supporters chanted “Free Hakamada now.”
“I have been waiting for this day for 57 years and it has come,” said Hakamada’s sister, Hideko, who has tirelessly campaigned for her brother.
“I’ve finally lifted a weight off my shoulders,” said the 90-year-old.
The Tokyo High Court ordered a new trial for 87-year-old former boxer Iwao Hakamada (pictured in a wheelchair, center, today) on Monday, nearly six decades after he was first convicted.
Iwao Hakamada, a former boxer, is seen in this undated photograph as a young man. He was convicted in 1968 of robbing and murdering his boss, the man’s wife and his two teenage children. However, evidence has since come to light that casts doubt on the conviction.
Hakamada spent nearly five decades on death row and was certified as the world’s longest-serving death row inmate by Guinness World Records in 2014, before a lower court ordered a new trial and released him while his case proceeded.
Hakamada was born on March 10, 1936. 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 allegations, but later confessed after what he later claimed was a brutal police interrogation that included beatings.
His attempts to retract the confession were unsuccessful, and his verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1980.
After a protracted battle, a district court in the central city of Shizuoka granted a new trial in 2014, finding that investigators could have planted evidence.
But the Tokyo High Court reversed the lower court’s ruling four years later and the case was remanded 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 bloodstained set of clothing that turned up more than a year after the crime.
Supporters say the clothes did not fit properly and the bloodstains were too vivid given the time that had elapsed.
DNA tests found no link between Hakamada, clothing, and blood, but the testing methods were rejected by the high court.
National broadcaster NHK said the presiding judge questioned the credibility of the clothing as evidence.
“There is no evidence other than clothing that can determine that Hakamada was the perpetrator, so it is clear that reasonable doubt arises,” presiding judge Fumio Daizen was quoted as saying by NHK.
Japan is the only major industrialized democracy, other than the United States, that retains capital punishment, always carried out by hanging.
The death penalty still enjoys wide public support and debate on the subject is rare.
Supporters say nearly 50 years of detention, most of it in solitary confinement with the ever-present threat of execution, took a severe toll on Hakamada’s mental health.
He told AFP in 2018 that he felt like he was “fighting a fight every day.”
Death sentences in Japan can be carried out with only a few hours’ notice, and he would have spent much of his time in solitary confinement, not knowing which day would be his last.
Hideko Hakamada (first left) and Hideyo Ogawa (second right), a lawyer for Iwao Hakamada, share a smile in front of the Tokyo High Court on March 13 after the court ordered a new trial for Hakamada, the Oldest death row inmate in the world. prisoner. Hakamada’s sister, Hideko, 90, has campaigned tirelessly for her brother.
Hakamada (seen left in 2018 and right in 2014) spent nearly five decades on death row and was certified the world’s longest-serving death row inmate, before a lower court ordered a new trial and release him while his case proceeded.
Human rights group Amnesty International hailed Monday’s ruling as a “long-awaited opportunity for justice.”
“Hakamada’s conviction was based on a forced ‘confession’ and there are serious questions about the other evidence used against him,” said Hideaki Nakagawa, director of Amnesty International Japan.
Prosecutors “should not appeal today’s ruling and prolong the limbo Hakamada has been in since his ‘temporary release’ nine years ago,” it added.
“They must allow this new trial to take place while Hakamada can still participate in the process.”