Investigators will lie, grill for hours on end and withhold exonerating evidence — in effect do anything — to extract a confession from a suspect they have pegged for a crime, a 1994 parolee seeking a retrial to clear his name in the 1963 kidnap-murder of a Saitama Prefecture girl said Thursday in Tokyo.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Kazuo Ishikawa, who appeared with his lawyer, Taketoshi Nakayama, pointed to discrepancies in the kanji used in an apparent ransom demand for ¥200,000 and an earlier document he wrote and also alleged that the state looked to him as a usual suspect because of his roots in Japan’s former outcast class known as the “burakumin.” He continues to claim he is innocent.
Ishikawa was arrested in 1963 for the kidnap-slaying of Yoshie Nakata in the town of Sayama. An autopsy carried out on her corpse at the time concluded she had been raped and strangled.
In a notorious case that would become known as the “Sayama Incident,” Ishikawa was initially sentenced to hang.
He claimed he was threatened and tricked by prosecutors into making a false confession, which he later retracted in seeking to appeal his sentence.
“I was told by the police that my older brother was actually their prime suspect, and that they were planning to arrest him. But then they said that if I agreed to be his scapegoat, they would let me off the hook after just 10 years,” Ishikawa, 74, said, explaining why he decided to plead guilty during his first trial in 1964.
But after being sentenced to death, he filed an appeal, professing his innocence and arguing the police had forced his confession.
In 1974, the Tokyo High Court commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment. Dissatisfied, Ishikawa appealed to the Supreme Court but lost, and his sentence was finalized in 1977.
Paroled in 1994, Ishikawa, who still must see a probation officer, called for abolishment of the “daiyo kangoku” substitute detention cells inside police stations that were originally set up in 1908 amid a shortage of prisons. The system is often denounced both in Japan and abroad because it effectively allows police to keep suspects under constant monitoring without access to lawyers.
“When the clock hit about 5 p.m., the police would take away my wristwatch and just continue their interrogation until midnight. I had no way of knowing how long they had grilled me,” Ishikawa said.
After Nakata disappeared and before she was slain, her family received a written ransom demand that remains the only possible clue to identify the killer.
The carefully crafted letter, with bizarre kanji that some suspect was an attempt to suggest the writer was barely literate, has been used by prosecutors as the main evidence to implicate Ishikawa, whose handwriting they have claimed resembled that found in the note.
Ishikawa, born into an impoverished “buraku” social outcast community, claims he never could have penned such a skilled letter, citing his near illiteracy at the time of the killing.
His lawyer, Nakayama, questioned the legitimacy of the handwriting analyses by the police, pointing out they deliberately ignored obvious discrepancies that might work in Ishikawa’s favor.
It was only after 47 years since Ishikawa’s arrest that prosecutors finally disclosed a petition letter he wrote that suggests his writing style differed from that of the ransom note.
“How could they have kept such important evidence under wraps for 47 years?” Nakayama asked.
Criticizing the prolonged unwillingness by prosecutors to make key evidence public, Nakayama claimed the police arrested Ishikawa because of his low social status.
“The police basically took advantage of the deep-rooted prejudice against the outcast class to wrongfully proclaim Ishikawa a murderer. We’re now making our utmost effort to reopen his case” and clear his name, Nakayama said.