Photo/Illutration Iwao Hakamada purchases a beverage during a recent outing. (Pool)

An 87-year-old man who spent decades on death row for multiple murders in 1966 that he insists he never committed now appears certain to clear his name.

Prosecutors decided not to appeal a Tokyo High Court order to hold a retrial for Iwao Hakamada.

March 20 was the deadline for the appeal.

Hiroshi Yamamoto, deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, said in a statement that one point in the high court decision was unacceptable. 

But the office decided there were no grounds for making a special appeal to the Supreme Court, he said. 

The Tokyo High Court a week earlier on March 13 approved a request to reopen the case. The retrial at the Shizuoka District Court will likely find him not guilty.

If that happens, Hakamada will be the fifth death row convict found innocent in a retrial over the past 30 years or so.

The high court said the results of experiments on blood stains constituted new evidence that not only raises doubt about Hakamada’s guilt in the crime but also suggests that evidence was fabricated and planted against him during his trial.

Hakamada was arrested in 1966 on suspicion of murdering four family members in present-day Shizuoka city. One of the victims was an executive at a miso production company that Hakamada had worked for.

Five articles of clothing with blood stains were presented as evidence by prosecutors in August 1967, a year after Hakamada’s arrest and while his trial was in progress at the Shizuoka District Court.

Prosecutors asserted the defendant wore the clothing at the time of the crime, and the blood type of the stains matched that of Hakamada.

The clothes were discovered in a miso tank of the company by an employee.

The district court accepted the prosecutors’ argument, convicted Hakamada of murder and sentenced him to death in 1968.

In 2020, the Supreme Court issued an order for the Tokyo High Court to re-examine the case by focusing on the discoloration of the blood stains on the clothes.

The stains in the evidence were reddish in color.

But the defense lawyers argued that the color of blood on clothes immersed in miso for more than a year would turn blackish.

Experiments by both the defense and prosecutors backed the blackish theory, according to the high court.

The court even mentioned the possibility that the clothes “were planted in the tank by a third party after a significant period of time had passed.”

The third party was highly likely an investigative authority, suggesting the evidence was fabricated, the court said.

The clothes were deemed not credible as evidence, and the high court decided to reopen Hakamada’s case.

Hakamada developed mental illnesses during his long time behind bars. He now lives with his elder sister in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture.

He was released from death row in 2014 when the Shizuoka District Court ruled for a retrial. Prosecutors had appealed that decision.