Retrial in Hakamata Murder Case Begins; Validity of Bloodstained Clothing Evidence Contested

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hideko Hakamata, center left in the front row, the sister of defendant Iwao Hakamata, is seen with her brother’s lawyers at the Shizuoka District Court in Shizuoka on Friday.

The first hearing of the retrial of 87-year-old Iwao Hakamata, who was previously sentenced to death for the 1966 murder of a family of four in Shizuoka Prefecture, began at the Shizuoka District Court on Friday morning without him present.

His 90-year-old sister Hideko entered a plea on behalf of the defendant — who was exempt from appearing — and said: “I claim his innocence. Please grant Iwao true freedom.”

Prosecutors will try to convict Hakamata again, saying in their opening statement that they would prove that the defendant was the murderer.

Historically, this is only the fifth case in which a retrial has been held after a court had finalized a sentence of death. It has been 36 years since the last such retrial began in 1987, in the so-called Shimada case, involving the 1954 murder of a young girl in Shimada, Shizuoka Prefecture.

In all four previous cases, none of the convictions were upheld, and the defendants were acquitted. It is highly likely that Hakamata will be acquitted in his retrial as well.

The incident occurred in the prefecture’s Shimizu City — now Shimizu Ward in Shizuoka City — in the early morning of June 30, 1966. A miso company executive’s house was on fire, and the bodies of the four people, who had been murdered, were found in the ruins. Hakamata, an employee of the company, was arrested in August of that year on suspicion of robbery and murder.

Hakamata confessed during the investigation, but pleaded not guilty at trial. The Shizuoka District Court sentenced him to death, and the sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1980.

After making a first, unsuccessful request for a retrial in 1981, a second request for a retrial was filed in 2008. The district and high courts decided to hold a retrial in 2014 and March 2023, respectively, and the new trial for Hakamata was granted.

The basis for seeking a retrial was changes in the color of bloodstains on five pieces of clothing found in a miso tank about 14 months after the incident. This evidence is expected to be the main point of contention at the retrial.

The final decision said that the clothes belonged to Hakamata, and they were worn when he committed the crime.

The bloodstains had remained reddish, but the high court in March this year deemed that the reddish color of bloodstains on clothing would darken if the fabric were immersed in miso for over a year and said, “It raised the possibility that investigators had fabricated evidence” that the clothes were worn by Hakamata when committing the crime.

In the current retrial, the prosecutors are expected to argue that it is not unnatural for the reddish color of bloodstains to remain even after fabric is immersed in miso, and that there can be no other culprit than Hakamata, based on a comprehensive evaluation of the old evidence examined at the final judgement.

The defense is expected to fight back by reiterating that the bloodstains would not stay reddish, and that investigators fabricated the clothing evidence. The defense also plans to argue: “The crime was committed by more than one person from outside the miso company. Hakamata is innocent and is the victim of a false accusation of a capital offense.”

Hakamata was released in 2014, but is said to have developed “detainment syndrome” due to his long detention. The district court concluded that he was mentally incompetent and granted him an exemption from court appearances this time. Hideko will serve as an authorized assistant under the Code of Criminal Procedure and will officially speak in court on her brother’s behalf.