After 46 years on death row and one release, he may finally… be sentenced to death

After 46 years on death row and one release, he may finally… be sentenced to death
After 46 years on death row and one release, he may finally… be sentenced to death

Prosecutors in Japan on Wednesday requested the death penalty against an 88-year-old man retried after spending 46 years on death row and who maintains his innocence, Japanese media announced.

A verdict is expected in the coming months, again according to local media.

Iwao Hakamada and his legal saga with Kafkaesque overtones have long been a symbol for supporters of the abolition of the death penalty in Japan.

This former boxer who became an employee in a company manufacturing miso (fermented soybeans) was sentenced to death for the first time in 1968 for the quadruple murder of his boss and three members of his family two years earlier.

He confessed to the murders after undergoing brutal interrogations for weeks, but later recanted. However, his death sentence was confirmed in 1980 by the Japanese Supreme Court.

However, he was released in 2014, after a court ended up admitting doubts about his guilt after genetic tests undermined incriminating evidence at the heart of the prosecution’s case: DNA found on bloody clothes did not match with that of the condemned.

But the road to obtaining a review trial for the person considered to have spent the longest time on death row in the world was particularly long and tortuous.

On appeal from the prosecution, the Tokyo High Court in 2018 questioned the reliability of the DNA tests and overturned the 2014 decision, without sending Mr. Hakamada back to prison.

In 2020, a new twist: the Supreme Court overturned the decision which prevented Mr. Hakamada from being retried. His review trial finally opened last October in Shizuoka (central Japan).

Even before the opening of this new trial, prosecutors had warned that they would seek a new guilty verdict.

His lawyers and his many supporters, the leader of which is his own sister Hideko, 91 years old, are calling for his acquittal.

Public debate on the death penalty is not very lively in Japan: the majority of the population is in favor of maintaining it, according to polls, and political leaders have no intention of abolishing it.

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