Man on Death Row for Half a Century Gets a Retrial

Iwao Hakamada was sentenced to death in 1968 but long claimed confession was forced
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2023 11:00 AM CDT
Man Who's Been on Death Row the Longest Gets a Retrial
Iwao Hakamada flashes v-signs on his way back from a walk in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture, central Japan Monday, March 13, 2023.   (Kyodo News via AP)

Amnesty International calls him the world's longest-serving death row inmate—but Iwao Hakamada now has a shot at leaving prison. The 87-year-old has been granted a retrial in the case that saw him sentenced to death some 55 years ago, in 1968. Hakamada said he only confessed to robbing and murdering his boss and the man's family in 1966 after 20 days of questioning, during which he claims he was beaten, reports the BBC. He retracted the confession in court. The retrial will center around his lawyers' allegations that evidence, specifically clothing, was fabricated.

Investigators claimed they recovered five pieces of bloodstained clothing that Hakamada wore while killing his boss at the miso manufacturing facility where he was a live-in employee, reports the Guardian. Investigators say they found the clothing more than a year after Hakamada was arrested, in a tank of miso, a fermented soybean paste. Experiments involving clothing soaked in the substance for a year turned it so dark that bloodstains weren't visible. His lawyers had also claimed the blood wasn't a DNA match, and that the pants were too small for Hakamada to wear.

The retrial itself is a long time coming: It was granted in 2014 by a district court that determined it was possible incriminating evidence was planted. Tokyo's High Court overturned that decision, but the Supreme Court instructed that court to reconsider, finally leading to Monday's green light on the retrial, reports the AP. Hakamada was released when the retrial decision was made in 2014 and has since served his sentence at home, with his age and health cited as reasons why he was unlikely to escape.

Al Jazeera paints a picture of Hakamada prior to the crime: Once ranked sixth in Japan in the boxing featherweight category, a knee injury put an end to his career in his mid-20s. His business failed, as did his marriage, and his finances deteriorated. He met miso factory owner Fumio Hashiguchi in 1965 and took a job with him. Hashiguchi, his wife, and two teen children were killed a year later. (Read more death row stories.)

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