UK & World News

  • 27 March 2014, 16:02

Japan Frees Longest-Serving Death Row Inmate

The world's longest serving death row inmate has walked free from prison, hours after Japanese authorities granted him a retrial.

Iwao Hakamada, 78, appeared unsteady as he emerged from prison alongside his sister, Hideko, who has long campaigned for his release.

Hakamada has spent 45 years in solitary confinement waiting to be executed after being convicted of murdering his boss and the man's family.

Shizuoka District Court has now ordered a fresh trial over concerns that the original investigators may have planted evidence.

In his ruling, presiding judge Hiroaki Murayama said: "There is a possibility that (key pieces of) evidence have been fabricated by investigative bodies."

Court prosecutors have three days to appeal the decision.

Hakamada initially denied carrying out the 1966 murders, but later confessed. He claimed his admission followed a brutal police interrogation and beatings.

Despite retracting his confession the supreme court confirmed his death sentence in 1980.

There have long been doubts about the evidence used to convict him.

Prosecutors used bloodstained clothes which came to light a year after his arrest.

However, the clothes did not fit him and the stains appeared to be too new to have come about during the murders.

His supporters have since claimed that DNA tests do not link Hakamada to the clothes and the blood stains.

Even one of the judges who was on the panel that originally convicted him said the decision was wrong - but he could not convince his two colleagues of Hakamada's innocence.

Following the announcement of his retrial, his sister Hideko, 81, thanked those who have been campaigning for his freedom.

"This happened thanks to all of you who helped us. I am just so happy," she said.

A spokesman for Amnesty International said: "Time is running out for Hakamada to receive the fair trial he was denied more than four decades ago.

"If ever there was a case that merits a retrial, this is it. Hakamada was convicted on the basis of a forced confession and there remain unanswered questions over recent DNA evidence."

Japan and the United States are the only major industrialised countries to enforce the death penalty.

Hakamada is just the sixth person since World War Two to be awarded a retrial after having the death sentence confirmed.

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