At Last! Freedom For Longest-Serving Death Row Inmate
A man who has been on Death Row in Japan for the last 48 years for a crime he may not even have committed finally has his freedom.
Iwao Hakamada holds the Guinness World Record for the person to have served on Death Row for the longest, ever in history, and has now been released after DNA tests indicate he probably wasn’t the culprit after all.
Hakamada, a 30-year-old former professional boxer and worker in a bean factory, was the live-in employee of a family the was slain and burgled in 1966, before their house was set ablaze and the person responsible fleeing the scene.
The man, now 78 years old, was interrogated by police for almost three weeks, without a lawyer present, before confessing to the heinous act on the 20th day. But during his trial, Hakamada retracted his confession, saying that the prosecutors had only gotten it through the force of beating and threatening the man.
Regardless of the retraction of his confession, the three judges presiding over his case sentenced him to death on four counts of murder, burglary and arson. One of the judges even reportedly resigned from his position half a year later, feeling that a mistake may have been made.
27 years after originally being detained, Hakamada’s appeal was denied. In 2008, he made a second appeal and had been waiting six years for the verdict.
DNA testing of blood stains on five different items of clothing the culprit was allegedly wearing at the time the crime was being committed, were tested. It was found that none of the DNA matched that of Hakamada. Trousers that the prosecutors produced as well were found to not even fit Hakamada, being too small for the alleged offender.
Judge Hiroaki Murayama presided over the appeal and said that it was possible that some of the key pieces of evidence against Hakamada could have been “fabricated by investigative bodies”. “It is unbearably unjust to prolong detention of the defendant any further,” the judge said at the ruling. “The possibility of his innocence has become clear to a respectable degree.”
In the history of Japan’s death sentencing, Hakamada is only the sixth person to be retried. Out of the other five cases, one is ongoing but the other four prisoners were freed.
Hakamada’s sister, 81-year-old Hideko, has devoted most of her life to fighting the case against her brother and trying to win back his freedom, and finally, justice has prevailed. “I just want to praise him for enduring all these years,” Hideko said. “Everyone, really, really, thank you. This has happened thanks to all of you who helped us. I am just so happy.”