Statement Welcoming the High Court’s Ruling to Uphold the Original Ruling to Open a Retrial of the Hakamada Case, and Urging the Public Prosecutors to Abandon Making a Special Appeal Against the Ruling
- Today, in the second appeal for retrial filed by Mr. Iwao Hakamada, the Tokyo High Court (Presiding Judge Fumio Daizen) decided to uphold the original ruling rendered by the Shizuoka District Court to open a retrial of the case and dismiss the immediate appeal made by the public prosecutors. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (the “JFBA”) highly values this ruling and its contents, as well as the speedy proceedings through which the ruling was rendered, as we have worked to provide support to the defendant in requesting a retrial since the beginning.
- The Hakamada Case concerns a robbery murder and arson case in which a senior managing director of a miso (fermented soybean paste) processing factory and three other family members were murdered at their house in what was then known as Shimizu City (currently Shimizu ward in Shizuoka City) before dawn on June 30, 1966. Mr. Hakamada, who was arrested in August of the same year, has insisted upon his innocence from the very beginning; however, after having undergone a number of grueling interrogations, he was coerced into confessing that he had committed the crime while wearing pajamas, and was indicted as a result. However, one year and two months after the crime, during the first instance of the trial, five items of clothing with a large amount of blood stains thereon were discovered in a miso tank. Upon such discovery, the prosecutors changed the contents of Mr. Hakamada’s statement in their opening statement, stating that the clothes he was wearing at the time of the crime were not pajamas, but were instead the five items of clothing which he took off to change into the pajamas at some point during the commission of the crime, and hid in the tank. The court, finding that the crime occurred as described by the public prosecutors, sentenced Mr. Hakamada to the death penalty.
- Ms. Hideko Hakamada, Mr. Hakamada’s older sister, filed the second appeal for retrial and submitted new evidence in relation to the five items of clothing in question, including a report regarding experiments (such as one involving soaking the clothes into miso), and proved that the five items of clothing in question did not belong to Mr. Hakamada and were not the clothes worn by the perpetrator at the time of the crime.
- However, after the immediate appeal made by the public prosecutors, the Tokyo High Court (Presiding Judge Takaaki Oshima) cancelled the ruling rendered by the Shizuoka District Court and dismissed Mr. Hakamada’s request for retrial.
Following the special appeal made by Mr. Hakamada, the Supreme Court decided to refer the case back to the court of prior instance (the Tokyo High Court) on December 22, 2020, stating that the reason was to have the Tokyo High Court determine whether or not the color tone of the blood stains on the five clothes injected reasonable doubt as to whether the clothes were put into the No.1 tank before July 20, 1966 and stayed soaked in miso for more than a year, based on the findings from a study on expert knowledge on the Maillard reaction and other factors that can influence the change in the color tone of blood stains on clothing soaked in miso. Today’s ruling rendered by the Tokyo High Court was made after the case was referred back to such court by the Supreme Court.
- Today’s ruling was made by acknowledging material such as an expert opinion written by Professor Shimizu and Assistant Professor Okuda of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Asahikawa Medical University regarding the five items of clothing which were stated as conclusive evidence demonstrating Mr. Hakamada’s guilt, and accepting such material as new evidence. The court found that the physical evidence was not sufficient to prove Mr. Hakamada’s guilt as the blood stains on the clothes still had some redness to them, which suggests that the clothes had not stay soaked in miso for more than a year, pointing to a possibility that someone other than Mr. Hakamada had soaked them in the No.1 tank after a considerable period of time had already passed since the crime had been committed, in order to hide such clothing. The court also found that there was reasonable doubt as to the final judgment of the case, as there is no other old evidence that points to Mr. Hakamada having been the perpetrator of the crime. These methods of judgment strictly comply with the framework of the overall evaluations established by the rulings in the Shiratori and Zaitagawa cases.
- Since Mr. Hakamada is a person of advance age, being currently 87 years old, and is ailing both mentally and physically after having been detained for an excessively long period of 47 years, there is not a moment to spare in achieving redress for Mr. Hakamada.
The JFBA has long been calling for the abolition of the death penalty. If today’s ruling becomes final and binding, the Hakamada Case will be the fifth case of a death row prisoner being acquitted in a retrial, which proves that miscarriages of justice leading to the death penalty still exist. The impact on Mr. Hakamada’s mental and physical health of living under the fear of execution is immeasurable.
The JFBA strongly urges the public prosecutors to not bring a special appeal against today’s ruling to the Supreme Court, and to immediately proceed with the retrial.
In addition to continuing to support Mr. Hakamada in seeking acquittal, the JFBA will exert our utmost efforts to realize reform of the legal system in order to prevent miscarriages of justice from occurring, such as by legislating for the disclosure of all evidence in cases where a retrial request is made, and amending the Code of Criminal Procedure Part IV including making it impossible for public prosecutors to make an appeal against a ruling to open a retrial.
March 13, 2023
President of Japan Federation of Bar Associations