The world’s longest-serving death row convict was on Monday granted a retrial by a Japanese court in the latest twist in a legal saga dating back to the 1960s.
Iwao Hakamada, 87, spent nearly five decades waiting for the hangman’s call following his 1968 conviction for quadruple murder before new evidence led to his release seven years ago.
The Tokyo High Court ruled Monday that “Hakamada cannot possibly be identified as the culprit,” given the main evidence presented to finalize his death penalty was unreliable, Kiyomi Tsunagoe, a lawyer on his defense team, told CNN.
She added that the Tokyo court upheld the decision not to return Hakamada to prison, given that he would likely be found not guilty.
“Hakamada’s case is known globally, and there always remained the risk that he could be sent back to prison and face the death penalty again, despite evidence pointing to his innocence,” Tsunagoe said.
Japan’s criminal justice system has a 99.9% conviction rate and is heavily reliant on confessions. The country is the only major developed democracy outside the United States that imposes capital punishment.
In 1966, Hakamada was accused of robbery, arson and the murder of his boss, his boss’ wife and their two children. The family was found stabbed to death in their incinerated home in Shizuoka, central Japan.
The former professional boxer-turned-factory worker initially admitted to all charges before changing his plea at trial. He was sentenced to death in a 2-1 decision by judges, despite repeatedly alleging that police had fabricated evidence and forced him to confess by beating and threatening him. The one dissenting judge stepped down from the bar six months later, demoralized by his inability to stop the sentencing.