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Sister fights for former pro boxer who was on death row for 46 years

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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

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

6 Comments
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This story of a terrible miscarriage of justice really needs more global media spotlights on it

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The law is structured so that once a suspect confesses, that confession is sufficient to secure a guilty verdict, irrespective of any subsequent evidence or testimony that points to another perpetrator. That is a great incentive for police interrogators to browbeat suspects.

When the Yanks added Article 36 to the 1947 Constitution -- "The infliction of torture by any public officer and cruel punishments are absolutely forbidden" -- that was a tremendous slap in the face of Japan's legal authorities. Yet no one has campaigned for its removal. Yet. To PM Abe, getting rid of Article 9 -- "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized" -- takes priority.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Good on her, so many people turned their back on him but I'm sure her support kept him going on the inside and gave him hope which eventually allowed him to become a free man.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

This tragic case highlights everything that's wrong with Japan's 'justice' system because depressingly, over 50 years later, nothing seems to have changed.

As soon as Hakamada was taken in for so-called voluntary questioning, authorities began leaking information to reporters so that all focus was on his guilt from day one.

It should be noted that those items of clothing offered as evidence (supposedly unearthed in a miso tank in the victim's company) just so happened to have been found a mere 400 days after the tanks had been originally searched.....

His confession came after 264 hours of interrogation during which time he'd been poorly fed, sleep deprived and told by the police that even if they killed him, they'd just report his death as due to 'illness'. Then after all that, the man then went through close to 50 years of waking up every morning wondering if that was to be the day of his execution.

Despite Hakamada being in a large amount of debt at the time, only 80000 yen was taken although close to 4 million yen ( crime occured on pay day at the miso factory) was left untouched.

The one surviving member of the family, the eldest daughter, had already moved in with her grandmother as her father did not approve of her boyfriend....I'm no detective, but I wonder if that could have lead to the true killer instead of ruining one man's life and letting a criminal go free.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Hakamada had steadfastly claimed that his confession was forced

That's possible...

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). 

Yeah, most likely, he ain't lyin'.

Despite Hakamada being in a large amount of debt at the time, only 80000 yen was taken although close to 4 million yen ( crime occured on pay day at the miso factory) was left untouched.

That's it, then, he ain't lyin'!

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." 

"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." 

This is a real travesty. I guess there's no chance of prosecuting those responsible for extracting Hakamada's "confession."

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The death penalty needs to be abolished in Japan. :)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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