Iwao Hakamada, believed to be the world’s longest-serving death row inmate, was able to walk free Thursday after decades in solitary confinement.
Hakamada, now 78, emerged from the Tokyo prison after the Shizuoka District Court granted a long-overdue retrial in his murder case. More than 30 years since he was sentenced to death, the court said the evidence used to convict him may have been fabricated by investigators.
Iwao Hakamada was sentenced in 1968 for the grisly murder of the family of an executive of miso manufacturing company where he worked, including the man’s wife and their two children.
He confessed to the crime 20 days after his arrest but later retracted his claims in court. He had been waiting on death row since 1980.
In a rare turnaround for Japan’s rigid justice system, the court decided to reopen his case in a ruling that could absolve Hakamada from a crime he paid for with 48 years of his life.
Defense lawyers showed that DNA from blood stains found on clothing alleged to have been worn by the killer did not match Hakamada’s, Kyodo news agency reported.
“There is no evidence at all linking Hakamada to the crimes,” presiding Judge Hiroaki Murayama said. The court added that keeping Hakamada detained any longer would be “unbearably unjust.”
Prosecutors have four days to appeal the court’s ruling but challenging the court’s decision would be “most callous and unfair,” according to Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s East Asia research director.
“Time is running out for Hakamada to receive the fair trial he was denied more than four decades ago,” she said. “If ever there was a case that merits a retrial, this is it. Hakamada was convicted on the basis of a forced confession, and there remain unanswered questions over recent DNA evidence.”
Hakamada’s sister Hideko, 81, who has campaigned for a retrial for decades, says she is happy about the developments.
“This happened thanks to all of you who helped. I am so happy,” she said, according to NHK footage.
By Maesie Bertumen