Defense Lawyers Outraged by Japan Prosecutors’ Decision to Prove Guilt After 57 Yrs

Courtesy of a supporter of Iwao Hakamata
Iwao Hakamata visits a temple in Hamamatsu on Monday.

The retrial of Iwao Hakamata, 87, is likely to be a protracted affair, with the Shizuoka District Public Prosecutors Office announcing Monday that it plans to claim that he is guilty of robbing and murdering a family of four in Shizuoka Prefecture in June 1966.

Fifty-seven years have passed since the incident for which Hakamata was handed a death sentence. Once the retrial was decided upon, it was widely thought that it would end in acquittal. Defense lawyers have expressed outrage over the prosecutors’ policy, accusing them of “trying to buy time.”

“I had a feeling the prosecutors would do something outrageous,” said Hakamata’s 90-year-old sister Hideko at a press conference in Shizuoka on Monday. “Now we have no choice other than to win the case in court. We’ve been fighting for 57 years so another two or three years isn’t a big deal; we’ll hang on.”

A second request for a retrial was filed in 2008, and following a number of judicial decisions, the Tokyo High Court green-lighted the request in March. Prosecutors decided not to file a special appeal against the court’s decision.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Iwao Hakamata’s sister Hideko speaks at a press conference in Shizuoka on Monday.

Four months have passed since the retrial decision, which was seen as a major step toward a long-awaited “not guilty” verdict. On Monday, the prosecutors and the defense team submitted their respective written arguments to the district court. They also exchanged the arguments with each other, the defense team said.

The defense team’s secretary general, lawyer Hideyo Ogawa, who attended Hideko’s press conference, said: “I’m disappointed. This is just a rehash of the requests against a retrial. Mr. Hakamata is 87 and has made it this far. What do the prosecutors think about people’s lives?”

The outline of the opening statement submitted to the court by the defense team is critical of the investigative authorities.

The defense lawyers claim in the outline that the police fabricated evidence in order to frame Hakamata, and that his “confession” was obtained through lengthy and unfair interrogations. They also claim that five pieces of clothing — the main evidence for his conviction — were “fabricated evidence unrelated to the incident and do not belong to Mr. Hakamata.”

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Shizuoka District Public Prosecutors Office Deputy Chief Prosecutor Yohei Okuda said, “We’ve examined the records carefully, conducted necessary supplementary investigations and decided to pursue a conviction.”

When asked if he thought the retrial would take a long time, he said, “We’re not planning to prolong it,” and “We’ll cooperate fully to expedite proceedings.”

Several years’ wait

There have been four previous cases in which prosecutors pursued guilty verdicts in retrials involving convicted death-row inmates, only for them to end in acquittals. These cases took between around 12 months and 29 months from the first hearings to the final verdicts. Hakamata’s retrial may also take years to conclude.

Following the Shizuoka District Court’s decision to hold a retrial, Hakamata was released from Tokyo Detention House in March 2014 after being held for 48 years. He presently lives with his sister Hideko at their home in Hamamatsu.

Hakamata is said to have developed “detainment syndrome” due to his long detention, and is unable to communicate. Out of consideration for his mental status, Hideko has reportedly decided to not inform her brother about the prosecutors’ decision to pursue a guilty verdict in the retrial.