Prosecutors in Japan to pursue retrial of world’s longest-serving death row inmate
TOKYO Prosecutors in Japan will pursue the retrial of an 87-year-old former boxer – considered the world’s longest-serving death row inmate – nearly six decades after he was convicted of murder, an official said on Monday.
The decision comes after Tokyo’s High Court in March ordered the retrial of Iwao Hakamada, in what his supporters saw as a long-awaited first step towards his acquittal.
Prosecutors told Shizuoka District Court on Monday they would go ahead with the new trial and seek a guilty verdict, an official in the prosecutor’s office told AFP.
Lawyers for Hakamada told reporters that they were “disappointed at the prosecutors”, Kyodo News reported.
The prosecutors’ pursuit of a conviction could lead to a lengthy trial. No date has been set.
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.
Hakamada 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.
The High Court order for a retrial reportedly cast doubt on the credibility of one key piece of evidence used to convict Hakamada – a set of blood-stained clothes that emerged more than a year after the crime.
“There is no evidence other than the clothes that could determine Hakamada was the perpetrator, so it is clear that reasonable doubt arises,” national broadcaster NHK quoted the presiding judge as saying at the time.
Japan is the only major industrialised democracy other than the United States to retain capital punishment, which still enjoys broad public support. Debate on the issue is rare.
Hakamada’s supporters say nearly 50 years of detention, mostly in solitary confinement with the ever-present threat of execution looming over him, took a heavy toll on his mental health.
Hakamada told AFP in 2018 he felt he was “fighting a bout every day”. - AFP