One of the capacity audience at Pope Francis' mass at Tokyo Dome on Nov 26 was 83-year-old Iwao Hakamada. A former professional boxer, Hakamada spent 48 years in prison, 46 of them on death row, after being convicted of the 1966 murders of a family of four in Shimizu City, Shizuoka. During his incarceration he was baptized and became a Catholic.
Hakamada had steadfastly claimed that his confession was forced, and after introduction of new DNA evidence possibly exculpating him, he was provisionally released from prison in 2014.
Jitsuwa Knuckles (Jan) sent a reporter to Hamamatsu City to interview Hakamada, where he resides with his elder sister, Hideko. She did most of the talking as Hakamada presently suffers from dementia.
"My brother lives in his own world," she tells the magazine. "I think he believes he himself is god, who rules the world."
According to Hideko, the former pro boxer is still in good enough condition to take a 3-hour stroll around the neighborhood each day.
"There are times when he doesn't recognize me as his sister any more," she says. "'You're a fake,' he tells me. 'An old Mexican hag.' It's natural for his mind to have withered. He spent 48 years in prison."
Dating back to the early postwar period, the Shizuoka Prefectural Police have accumulated an ignominious record of cases involving forced confessions that involved torturing of suspects and falsifying of evidence in order to obtain confessions, a guilty verdict and death sentence. In addition to Hakamada, other notorious cases from decades ago that were later overturned by higher courts included the Sachiura Incident (1948), the Futamata Incident (1950) and the Kojima Incident (1950).
It has been suggested that Hakamada was regarded as a prime suspect because of police bias against people who engaged in the fighting arts. (He had once been Japan's 6th-ranked flyweight-class boxer.) He also was unable to come up with a convincing alibi for the time of the killings.
The evidence produced by the police, five items of clothing that would not have fit the accused, were nevertheless convincing enough for the court to sentence him to death, and in 1980 the Supreme Court refused a retrial, setting the stage for his execution.
All this time, Hideko Hakamada continued to vocally support her younger brother.
"In 2014, Iwao was finally freed after 48 years of incarceration," she relates. "The Shizuoka District Court issued an order halting a retrial or proceeding with his execution. However that ruling was appealed and last year (2018), the Shizuoka High Court reversed the decision, which means we're headed for the Supreme Court again. This has been ongoing for 53 years now.
"Sadly, our mother, who had supported him, passed away in 1974, and it was then that I decided to take up his cause."
A civil servant and divorcee, Hideko visited her brother monthly and to this day says she has never taken a sightseeing holiday.
"I had no justification to enjoy myself as long as Iwao was fighting for his life," she explains. "Even now, at age 86 I exercise for 30 minutes a day. As long as he needs my help, I have to keep up my physical condition."
"From around 1991, the prison made it difficult to visit him, or even send letters. The ones I sent were discarded."
In 2003, while still in prison, Hakamada was able to post this on a social network: "There was a ceremony in the Lord's Kingdom and Iwao Hakamada emerged victorious. He received 500 million yen in compensation from the state...He is battling with germs from all over the world. The germs have been sentenced to death. He existed until January 8, but on that day, he himself was absorbed into God almighty."
The reporter asked Hideko, "If you had not been enmeshed in this incident (of a miscarriage of justice), how do you think the lives of you and your brother would have turned out?"
"I don't like to engage in that sort of speculation," she replied. "I had always believed in my brother's innocence. So what has happened was meant to be. It's our fate."
To have had a sister like that, who supported him for 53 years, and then to be able to see the pope in person, for Hamada, was perhaps the greatest freedom of all.© Japan Today