Prosecutors are gearing up to argue for the conviction of Iwao Hakamada, a former death-row inmate, in an upcoming retrial for a quadruple murder that took place in central Japan in 1966, according to a source familiar with the matter. This decision comes despite the prosecutors’ previous choice not to appeal a high court order in March that granted Hakamada a retrial, setting the stage for his potential exoneration. Hakamada, now 87 years old, spent nearly 50 years behind bars before new evidence surfaced, leading to his release in 2014.
On Monday, the prosecutors plan to present their position to the Shizuoka District Court, where the retrial will take place. This move is likely to face opposition from Hakamada’s lawyers, who have urged for a swift conclusion to the trial and his acquittal. It is worth noting that this marks the fifth time in postwar Japan that a retrial decision has been finalized in a death penalty case. In all four previous instances during the 1980s, the retrials resulted in acquittals.
In March of this year, the Tokyo High Court, acting upon an order from the Supreme Court in 2020 to re-examine its previous decision not to reopen the case in 2018, reversed its stance and ordered the retrial. The high court cited the unreliability of the main evidence used, stating a strong possibility that five pieces of bloodstained clothing allegedly worn by Hakamada during the incident had been planted by investigators in a tank of miso soybean paste where they were discovered.
In response to the high court’s decision, the prosecutors re-evaluated the crucial evidence and now intend to challenge the assertion that it was planted. Hakamada, at the time of the crime, was employed by a miso maker and resided there. He was arrested for the alleged murder of the company’s senior managing director, his wife, and two of their children, who were all found fatally stabbed in their burnt-down house in Shizuoka.
During intense interrogations, Hakamada, a former professional boxer, confessed to the killings but pleaded not guilty during the trial. Over the course of his long incarceration, his mental condition deteriorated, particularly after his death sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.
This retrial signifies a significant legal development in Japan, as it reopens a case involving the death penalty. The prosecutors’ decision to pursue conviction despite the granting of a retrial highlights the complexities and nuances surrounding the investigation, evidence, and potential implications for Hakamada’s fate. The outcome of the retrial will be closely watched, as it may have broader implications for the Japanese legal system and the treatment of similar cases in the future.