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HOME  > Past issues  > 2014 March 26 - April 1  > Supporters’ efforts lead to court decision to free death-row convict
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2014 March 26 - April 1 [CIVIL RIGHTS]

Supporters’ efforts lead to court decision to free death-row convict

March 28, 2014
The Shizuoka District Court decided on March 27 to reopen a murder case and release a 78-year-old death-row inmate after nearly 48 years in detention. This decision was attained by the inmate’s and his supporters’ unceasing struggles.

In June 1966, four members of a family who ran a soybean processing firm in Shizuoka’s Shimizu City (now Shimizu Ward in Shizuoka City) were stabbed to death and their house was burned down. The police arrested Hakamada Iwao, a 30-year-old live-in employee at the firm, and the prosecution indicted him for robbery and murder.

In September 1968, the Shizuoka District Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim of innocence and sentenced him to death. The court ruling was upheld by the Tokyo High Court in 1976 and it was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980. For nearly 34 years since then, Hakamada and his lawyers have repeatedly filed pleas for retrial.

This time, the district court approved DNA test results indicating that Hakamada’s blood was not the blood found on clothing which he is said to have worn at the time of the crime. Pointing to the fact that investigative authorities had deliberately hidden the firm’s employee’s testimony backing Hakamada’s alibi and the possibility that they cooked up incriminating evidence, the court made the decision to retry the case.

At a gathering after the decision was announced, Sano Kuniji, secretary of the Shizuoka prefectural branch of People’s Aid and Relief Society (Kokumin Kyuenkai), said, “I’m so happy that we have supported Hakamada and finally won. A number of supporters died during the long-running struggle. I want to visit their graves and report this news to them. Next, let’s work together to win a judgment of acquittal.”

Sakurai Shoji, a 67-year-old man who was sentenced to life imprisonment in another robbery and murder case and got an acquittal in 2011, 44 years after the incident, said, “When I waited for this decision, my heart was beating faster than in my case. Prosecutors resort to whatever means needed in order to make a suspect guilty. We cannot tolerate such injustices any more.”

Past related article:
> Do not allow judicial crimes based on forced confessions to continue [May 25, 2011]
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