Osaka High Court Upholds Retrial Order for 1984 Robbery, Murder

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hirotsugu Sakahara (right), Hiromu Sakahara’s eldest son, holds up the decision letter issued after his retrial was approved in Kita Ward, Osaka City, on Monday afternoon.

Osaka (Jiji Press)—Osaka High Court on Monday upheld a ruling granting a retrial for a deceased man who was found guilty over a 1984 robbery-murder case.

The high court maintained Otsu District Court’s decision in 2018 to reopen the case for Hiromu Sakahara, who was convicted for killing a female liquor shop owner and stealing a cashbox in the town of Hino in Shiga Prefecture, western Japan, dismissing an immediate appeal filed by the prosecution.

“Reasonable doubts emerged over the finding of facts in the final judgement and the credibility of the fundamental core of (Sakahara’s) confession,” presiding Judge Kyoji Ishikawa said.

Sakahara, who was a regular customer of the liquor shop, confessed to the crime during investigations but maintained his innocence at trial. The Supreme Court finalized his guilty ruling, and he died of illness in 2011 at the age of 75 while serving an indefinite prison term.

Sakahara’s family members had sought the retrial in a second appeal.

The credibility of his confession was the key issue in the trial, given the lack of material evidence directly linking him to the crime.

Negatives of photographs taken during police investigations were newly presented as evidence in the second appeal.

The judge focused on how police recreated the disposal of the liquor shop owner’s body in its investigation. According to the guilty ruling, Sakahara reenacted the disposal, carrying a doll, in a smooth way. But as the negatives included shots that alternated between those with a doll and those without it, the judge pointed out that the shots “likely took considerable effort and time” to take.

“It created room to cast doubts over whether the investigation was conducted voluntarily, including the possibility of (Sakahara) being influenced,” he said.

The negatives presented in the second appeal included photographs that prosecutors had used as evidence of Sakahara having led police to the site where they retrieved the stolen cashbox.

The photos were found to have been taken on the way back from the site instead of on the way to it, leading Otsu District Court to find in 2018 that police may have given Sakahara hints about where the site was and that he was able to find the location after cooperating with them.

But the judge determined that the importance of the fact that Sakahara was able to reach the site of the cashbox discovery had not changed, saying that the district court’s decision was unreasonable and could not be supported.

The high court also did not uphold the district court’s finding that Sakahara’s confession was not made voluntarily.

According to lawyers, the 2018 ruling by Otsu District Court was the first since World War II to grant a retrial for a deceased convict who had been sentenced to an indefinite term or death.

In March last year, Osaka High Court conducted the first on-site investigation by a judge in a retrial appeal.

Sakahara’s son Koji, 61, told a press conference following the high court ruling that he hopes a retrial is held and a not guilty ruling is handed down as soon as possible.