World's longest serving death row prisoner granted retrial decades after being sentenced to hanging
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The world's longest-serving death row inmate has been granted a retrial almost half a century after he was first sentenced.
Iwao Hakamada, now 87, was sentenced to death way back in 1968 for the murder of his boss, his boss's wife, and their two children in Shizouka, just west of Tokyo.
The family had been found stabbed to death after a fire in 1966.
The former pro boxer was interrogated for 20 days, during which time, he claims he was beaten.
Under the intense conditions, he confessed to the murders.
But later, when he was brought to court, Hakamada retracted his confession.
Still, Hakamada was sentenced to death in a 1980 Supreme Court trial.
Aside from the US, Japan is the only major industrialised democracy that uses capital punishment.
Human rights groups have argued for years that Hakamada was mistreated and deserved a retrial.
Eventually, in 2014, a district court in Shizouka granted him a retrial, but that ruling was overturned four years later by Tokyo's High Court.
Hakamada's lawyers then made an appeal to the Supreme Court, where judges ruled in 2020 that the Tokyo High Court should rethink their decision.
Finally, a new ruling has found that Hakamada's retrial should go ahead.
A key piece of evidence for Hakamada's lawyers is whether or not the blood stains on clothing alleged to have been worn by the killer match his DNA.
Hakamada's team argue that the DNA isn't a match and that evidence was fabricated in the original trial.
Commenting on the news of a retrial, Hakamada's sister Hideko, 90, stated: "I was waiting for this day for 57 years and it has come.
"Finally a weight has been lifted from my shoulders."
Supporters who have been following Hakamada's decades-long legal battle say that his prison sentence has taken a serious toll on his mental health, having spent most of the past 50 years in solitary confinement, always with the threat of execution looming over him.
Commenting on the upcoming retrial, Amnesty International Japan said they welcomed the 'long-overdue chance to deliver some justice', but urged prosecutors to let the trial go ahead without any further hold-up.
"Hakamada's conviction was based on a forced 'confession' and there are serious doubts about the other evidence used against him," said director Hideaki Nakagawa.
"Prosecutors 'must not appeal against today's ruling and prolong the limbo Hakamada has been in since his 'temporary release' nine years ago.
"They must allow this retrial to take place while Hakamada is still able to participate in the proceedings."
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