Japan

Japan’s top court sends back 1966 murder case to lower court over retrial

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mainichi– Japan’s top court has sent back to a lower court a 1966 quadruple murder case in which a former professional boxer was sentenced to death, rejecting a high court’s refusal to reopen the case, his lawyers said Wednesday.

Based on the top court decision dated Tuesday, the Tokyo High Court will again examine whether to reopen the case of Iwao Hakamada, 84, who was freed in 2014 after spending nearly half a century on death row. He has been struggling to clear his name over the murder in Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan.

The Supreme Court’s Third Petty Bench dismissed the credibility of DNA tests conducted on key evidence — five items of clothing said to have been worn by the culprit — which his defense team had presented as new proof of Hakamada’s innocence.

But it also concluded the high court should re-examine the case because questions have not been resolved over the color of blood marks left on the clothing items that were found in a soybean tank 14 months after the murder.

Of the five Supreme Court justices who examined the case, two opposed the decision, saying the top court should order a retrial.

The former boxer is suffering from delusions apparently as a result of his long detention, according to people close to him. His sister Hideko, 87, who lives with him in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, welcomed the top court decision, saying, “Iwao is innocent.”

Hakamada, who was initially arrested in 1966 on suspicion of robbery, murder and arson, was freed by the Shizuoka District Court in March 2014 after nearly 48 years in prison. The court also suspended his death sentence and decided to reopen the case.

In June 2018, however, the Tokyo High Court overturned the lower court decision to grant him a retrial, prompting his defense team to file an appeal with the top court.

Hakamada was a live-in employee at a soybean processing firm when he was arrested for allegedly killing the firm’s senior managing director, his wife and two children. They were found dead from stab wounds at their burned house in Shizuoka.

He initially confessed to investigators but pleaded innocent at his trial. The district court found Hakamada guilty and sentenced him to death in 1968, with the decision finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

As Hakamada and his family filed requests for a retrial, the district court in 2014 accepted DNA test results that undermined the claim that Hakamada’s blood had been detected on the five items in the soybean processing plant. The court even noted that the evidence could have been fabricated by police.

Prosecutors appealed against the decision to the Tokyo High Court, casting doubt on the reliability of the DNA tests. While the district court concluded that the items were unlikely to be Hakamada’s based on an expert analysis provided by his defense team, the high court said the analysis was unreliable.