In Japan, capital punishment once again required against the country’s “oldest death row inmate”

In the Hakamada case, named after former boxer Iwao Hakamada, prosecutors again requested the death penalty on May 22 as part of a review of his trial, reports Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

Accused of having murdered four people in 1966 in Shizuoka prefecture, in the center of the archipelago, this 88-year-old man was sentenced to death for the first time two years later. Nevertheless, he and his supporters, including his older sister, Hideko, 91, had obtained the re-examination of his case in 2014, and the Tokyo High Court had indicated in March 2023 that it had given its agreement for the holding of a new trial. In total, the former boxer spent forty-eight years in prison, earning the nickname “oldest death row inmate.”

Given the cruelty and scale of the acts, and the feelings of the victims’ families, we concluded that there was no choice but to seek the death penalty. (…) Thanks to the evidence, we have established with certainty that he is the author of these murders”, underlined an executive from the Japanese prosecutor’s office to justify his decision, quoted by the channel.

Emblem of the fight against the death penalty

This case is first distinguished by its duration, since it was only in 2014 that the Shizuoka District Court allowed Iwao Hakamada to return home on conditional release. This case is emblematic of the fight against the death penalty in Japan, and also remarkable because, in the country’s legal system, it is very difficult to obtain a review of a case, due to extremely difficult conditions to meet.

For the defense, which maintains Hakamada’s innocence, the prosecutors’ decision is more than scandalous, especially since it accuses investigators of having falsified certain evidence.

“Not much time left to live”

In fact, in their indictment, the prosecutors rely on five items of clothing that Hakamada wore during the act and which he allegedly hid in a barrel of miso (fermented soybean paste) from the factory where he worked at the time. But there is a problem: although they had been unearthed a year and two months after the events, the traces of blood on these clothes were still red. The defendant’s lawyers argue that if they had remained in miso for more than a year, they would have necessarily turned black: “The color of these clothes is proof of the falsification carried out by the investigators,” they denounce, quoted by the daily.

“We fought for fifty-eight years,” declared for her part Hideko Hakamada, the sister of the accused, during her last hearing, quoted by the daily Asahi Shimbun. “I am 91 years old, and Iwao is 88 years old. We don’t have much time left to live, let us live it in a human way.

Decision expected in September

As for the accused, who is in a state of dementia due to almost half a century of incarceration, he was authorized not to attend his trial. According to the daily, despite the intransigence of the prosecutors, there is nevertheless little chance that they will win their case at the end of the procedure.

In the cases which resulted in a re-examination, there are no cases which concluded with the conviction of the accused. Hakamada will therefore most likely be exonerated”, writes the daily. It remains to be seen how the judges will decide in this historic case. The verdict is expected on September 26.

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