JAPAN

World's longest-serving death row inmate freed and granted retrial in Japan after 45 years

World's longest-serving death penalty inmate granted retrial amid claims that police faked evidence to convict him of murders in 1966

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 4:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 11:30pm
 

A man believed to be the world's longest-serving death row inmate was yesterday released and granted a retrial in Japan over murders in 1966.

The dramatic move came after doubts emerged about his guilt amid suspicions that police faked evidence.

Iwao Hakamada, 78, who was convicted of the murder of his boss and the man's family, has been on death row for more than 45 of his 48 years in prison.

Delivering his ruling at Shizuoka District Court , presiding judge Hiroaki Murayama cited possible planting of evidence by investigators to win a conviction as they sought to bring closure to a crime that shocked the country.

There is a possibility that key pieces of evidence have been fabricated
JUDGE HIROAKI MURAYAMA

"There is a possibility that key pieces of evidence have been fabricated by investigative bodies," Murayama said in his decision.

He also ordered Hakamada's release, saying continued confinement "goes against justice".

Apart from the United States, Japan is the only major industrialised democracy to carry out capital punishment, a practice that has led to repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups, including Amnesty International.

Hakamada is the sixth person since the end of the second world war to receive a retrial after having a death sentence confirmed.

Hakamada initially denied accusations that he robbed and killed his boss, the man's wife and his two children before setting their house ablaze.

But the ex-boxer, who worked for a bean paste maker, later confessed after what he later claimed was a brutal police interrogation.

He retracted his confession, but to no avail, and the supreme court confirmed his death sentence in 1980.

Prosecutors and courts had used blood-stained clothes, which emerged a year after the crime and his arrest, as key evidence to convict Hakamada.

The clothes did not fit him, his supporters said. They also said blood stains appeared too vivid for evidence that was discovered a year after the crime.

Later DNA tests found no link between Hakamada, the clothes and the blood stains, his supporters claimed.

But the now-frail Hakamada remained in solitary confinement on death row.

His supporters and some lawyers, including the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, have loudly voiced their doubts about evidence, the police investigations and the judicial logic that led to the conviction.

Even one of the judges who originally sentenced Hakamada to death in 1968 has said he was never convinced of his guilt, but could not sway his judicial colleagues who out-voted him.

Japan has a conviction rate of about 99 per cent and claims of heavy-handed police interrogations persist under a long-held belief that a confession is the gold standard of guilt.

Hakamada's sister Hideko, 81, who has campaigned for a retrial for decades, thanked supporters who gathered outside the court house before his release.

"I want to free him as soon as possible," she said. "I want to tell him, 'You did well. You will finally be free,'" she said.

Hakamada seems to have developed psychological illnesses after decades in solitary confinement, Hideko said in an interview last year.

"What I am worried about most is Iwao's health. If you put someone in jail for 47 years, it's too much to expect them to stay sane," Hideko said.

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