Photo/IllutrationIwao Hakamada’s sister, Hideko, right, and his supporters explain the Tokyo High Court's decision June 11 to refuse a retrial. (Nobuo Fujiwara)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The Tokyo High Court on June 11 rejected a request by former death row inmate Iwao Hakamada for a retrial, overruling a lower court decision to allow him the chance to finally clear his name in a 5-decade-old murder case.

Lawyers for Hakamada, 82, plan to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Hakamada, who in his youth was a professional boxer, was convicted of killing a family of four during a robbery and setting fire to their home in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1966.

Hakamada had maintained his innocence all along. He was handed the death sentence in 1968, and the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Although the high court ruled against a retrial, it did not nullify the Shizuoka District Court’s decision in March 2014 to approve the stay of execution and order Hakamada's immediate release.

"Given his age, living circumstances and health condition, it is not appropriate to cancel those decisions,” said Presiding Judge Takaaki Oshima of the Tokyo High Court.

When he was released in March 2014, Hakamada had served 48 years in prison, most of them in the shadow of the hangman's noose.

Since his release, Hakamada went to live with his 85-year-old sister, Hideko, in their hometown in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture.

The top court, in finalizing the death penalty in 1980, accepted that five articles of clothing recovered from a miso tank at the family's factory 14 months after the slayings were worn by the perpetrator.

The focal point in the request for the retrial was whether a DNA examination by prosecutors of blood stains on the clothes was trustworthy.

The district court did not side with prosecutors. Instead, it acknowledged the validity of the findings of a separate DNA analysis by Katsuya Honda, a professor of forensic medicine at the University of Tsukuba, that was performed at the request of the defense team.

Honda determined that DNA found on an item of clothing recovered from the tank did not match a sample taken from Hakamada.

The district court determined that the clothes were not Hakamada’s, nor were they worn at the time of the crime.

Prosecutors immediately appealed the district court ruling, saying Honda’s method of DNA analysis was unique and “not credible.”

In reversing the lower court’s decision, the high court raised doubts about Honda's method of analysis.

“The result (of the DNA examination) is not trustworthy, nor does it amount to clear evidence (pointing to innocence),” the court said.

It also said that no unreasonable points had been established to contradict the finding that the five items of clothing found in the tank were worn at the time of the crime.

“It is clear that no reasonable doubts have been raised about the decision when the court finalized the verdict (for Hakamada)," the high court said.

There is a precedent in which a request for a new trial was nullified after it was once granted.

The case concerns the deaths of five women made to drink poisoned wine in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, in 1961.

The Nagoya High Court granted a retrial for Masaru Okunishi in 2005. But a separate section of the same court overturned the ruling the following year. The dispute over a retrial continued.

Okunishi died of pneumonia at age 89 in 2015 in prison while still under sentence of death.

(This article was compiled from reports by Ryujiro Komatsu and Mikiharu Sugiura.)