Retrial of ’67 Ibaraki murder case begins

Forced confessions sent pair up for 26 years, top court suspects

Kyodo News

Retrial proceedings started Friday for two men who spent 26 years behind bars for a 1967 robbery-murder in Ibaraki Prefecture, based on a December ruling by the Supreme Court that cast doubt on the pair’s confessions made during interrogations.

Appearing before the Mito District Court’s Tsuchiura Branch, Shoji Sakurai and Takao Sugiyama, both 63, are expected to be acquitted. They were paroled in 1996.

In his opening remark, Sakurai said: “I am innocent. We are not the culprits.”

Sugiyama also stated that he did not commit the crime, claiming investigators forced him to confess to the robbery-murder, which became known as the “Fukawa Case” after the name of the area where the crime took place. The victim, carpenter Shoten Tamamura, 62, was robbed of ¥107,000 and strangled in the town of Tone in August 1967.

The defense team for Sakurai and Sugiyama said the court “must prove the innocence of the two, and must clarify why they were (wrongfully) charged.” The counsel, however, opposes running a DNA test on a shirt found wrapped around the victim that prosecutors are expected to propose to prove the pair’s guilt.

The district court sentenced Sakurai and Sugiyama to life in prison in 1970. Their convictions were finalized by the Supreme Court in 1978, and they were paroled in 1996.

In the case, the credibility of their confessions made during interrogations and of eyewitness testimony was called into question due to a lack of physical evidence.

In petitioning for the retrial, the defense counsel submitted “new evidence,” including test results showing the victim was most likely strangled with underwear, not by hand as the men had confessed during their questioning.

The defense plans to oppose any DNA analysis on the shirt found at the crime scene and will demand the pair’s swift acquittal, arguing the evidence may have been contaminated, for example, with saliva from the two possibly planted by the investigators who questioned them.

Following the men’s second petition for a retrial, the district court decided in 2005 to reopen the case, saying the accounts given by the two were inconsistent with evidence found on Tamamura’s corpse.

The Tokyo High Court supported the decision in 2008, and the Supreme Court rejected prosecutors’ appeal on Dec. 14, 2009, opening the way for Friday’s retrial.

Before entering the district court, Sugiyama told reporters he will not seek an apology in court because he will not forgive the law enforcement authorities until he dies.