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He later retracted the confession in court. Day after day after day, before finally on day 20, Hakamada confessed," said David Johnson, professor of sociology and an expert on the Japanese justice system at the University of Hawaii.
He said false confessions are a major source of wrongful convictions in Japan. Overall, Japan's conviction rate is above 99 percent , meaning almost every criminal case that goes to trial ends in conviction. In part, that's because prosecutors only bring cases they think they can win, said Johnson, and many of those cases are built on confessions. Hakamada was imprisoned for 48 years — 30 of them in solitary confinement. Every morning, he awoke at 7 a. Japan does not give prisoners advance warning of their executions.
Inside Japan’s death row prisons where seven cultists were hanged
The U. The UNHRC has urged Japan to consider abolishing it, pointing to the large number of crimes that can carry a death sentence, the lack of pardons and the execution of elderly and mentally ill convicts.
For Hakamada, decades of living in existential limbo took a toll on his mental health. His decline can be charted in the letters he wrote his family that his sister Hideko keeps in a box at her house, where he now lives. The earliest letters from the s, are written in neat rows of Japanese characters and filled with hope.
Then in , after 12 years of appeals, the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence. Hideko says that was a turning point for her brother. And that was when the death penalty became real to him, and it was very scary. His letters from that time show his mind starting to unravel; he writes about devils tormenting him in the shower. I kept going though, to tell him his family hadn't abandoned him. Then nearly 50 years after he was first imprisoned, Hideko filed for a retrial based on new DNA evidence: Hakamada's lawyers said his blood did not match blood from the crime scene.
A district court granted the retrial in , writing it was "possible that key evidence had been fabricated by investigators" and that it was "unjust to detain him because of the clear possibility he was innocent. I was 81 and I smiled for the first time since I was 33," Hideko said. It was also a joyful day for a judge in the original case. Norimichi Kumamoto was chief of the three-judge tribunal that heard Hakamada's case in He later said he believed Hakamada was innocent but couldn't convince the other two judges.
Still, as head of the panel, he had to write the death sentence. He said the look on Hakamada's face when he heard the sentence haunted him.
So he quit the bench a few months later, became estranged from his family and wandered the country. When Hakamada was released, Kumamoto met him to apologize. The judge was so frail he couldn't speak but Hideko still thinks the visit meant something to her brother.
That is not the end of the story, though. Because in Japan, prosecutors can appeal rulings and this past June, the Tokyo High Court overturned the decision that set Hakamada free.
The toll of 50 years on death row
The case now goes to the Supreme Court. If Hakamada loses his appeal, he could be sent back to death row. I don't know any other nation that has done this.
Related death row records site japan
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