Photo/Illutration Iwao Hakamada, right, and his elder sister, Hideko, speak to supporters in Shizuoka on March 21 after prosecutors decided not to appeal a high court ruling to hold a retrial. (Kaname Ohira)

SHIZUOKA--Iwao Hakamada, who served more than four decades on death row for a crime that he maintained he never committed, thanked supporters on March 21 after the start of his retrial was confirmed.

The 87-year-old man said that he could win with everyone’s cooperation at a gathering in Shizuoka city held by his legal team.

Hakamada appeared on a stage accompanied by his elder sister, Hideko, 90.

A supporter handed him a microphone and said, “Many people who have believed in your innocence gathered here because the start of the retrial was confirmed. We would like to hear from you.”

Hakamada spoke for about a minute.

He has suffered from mental illness during his more than 47 years on death row until his release in 2014, sometimes making it difficult for him to distinguish between reality and delusion.

In such a condition, he spoke to a large audience of about 150 supporters, “We could win with your cooperation in the fight against dragons. Thank you for your support.”

Hideko talked about his situation at home, saying, “I’m telling him that the retrial will begin and showing him newspapers with his photo in them. He is intently looking at them.

“I think it will be long retrial and is going to take another six months or a year. The crucial moment will come from now on. Please stay with us for a while longer,” she said.

Hakamada spent decades on death row for the murder of four members of a family in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1966.

The Tokyo High Court decided on March 13 to grant him a retrial and sent the case back to a lower court.

The Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office could have filed an appeal within a week but decided to accept the court’s decision on March 20, finalizing the start of the retrial.

It is expected that Hakamada will be found not guilty at the retrial, which will be held at Shizuoka District Court.

His legal team explained why it believed that prosecutors gave up on filing a special appeal with the Supreme Court and the prospects for the retrial.

Katsuhiko Nishijima, head of the legal team, said, “The high court’s decision completely refuted the prosecutors’ argument and there was no way to counter it.

“Even if they bring the case to the Supreme Court, it won’t be accepted. It’s reasonable to assume that they cannot give a reason for a special appeal,” he said.