Bar, Amnesty slam denial of inmate’s retrial over 1961 poison killings

Kyodo

Human rights groups attacked the Supreme Court’s dismissal of an 87-year-old death-row inmate’s petition for a retrial over the 1961 murders of five women who drank poisoned wine in Nabari, Mie Prefecture.

The top court ruled that the poison used could have been tetraethyl pyrophosphate as determined in the final ruling that saw Masaru Okunishi convicted of killing five people, including his wife, and injuring 12 others who drank the tainted wine at a community meeting in the city.

But Japan Federation of Bar Associations President Kenji Yamagishi said in a statement Friday there was reasonable doubt that the poison was the pesticide, adding that the top court should have properly examined new evidence — that included testimony from an expert that the poison was not tetraethyl pyrophosphate — submitted by the defense team for Okunishi.

“It is doubtful that Mr. Okunishi is the culprit, and the decision (by the Supreme Court) cannot be said to be appropriate,” said the chief of the federation, which has since 1973 supported the effort to reopen the case, without elaborating on what role a different poison than the one that was determined “could” have been used has in connection with Okunishi’s guilt or innocence. Earlier reports said he confessed.

Amnesty International Japan also had “grave concern” over the rejection of Okunishi’s retrial bid.

Okunishi was acquitted of the murder in 1964 in his district court trial but was sentenced to death 1969 by the Nagoya High Court after prosecutors appealed. That verdict was finalized by the Supreme Court three years later. As his petition for a retrial was initially accepted, Amnesty said, “The vicissitudes in the rulings indicate the fact-findings involve reasonable doubt.”

Due to deteriorating health, Okunishi has been held in a medical prison in Tokyo since May and is now in serious condition.

“We demand Mr. Okunishi be guaranteed the opportunity to stand retrial,” Amnesty said in a statement.