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Sister’s long years of support finally pay off

Kyodo

Hideko Hakamada, the 81-year-old sister of Iwao Hakamada, who was on death row more than three decades after he was convicted of murdering a family of four in Shizuoka Prefecture, expressed delight Thursday after learning he was being freed while his case is re-examined.

She has stood by her brother since his initial arrest 48 years ago.

“Thank you very much. I only want to say I am happy. That’s all,” she told a group of supporters outside the Shizuoka District Court after it announced its decision.

Hakamada said she can’t forget the sight of her older brother Shigeji drawing cold stares from relatives decades ago when he asserted his belief in Iwao’s innocence.

Shigeji’s death 13 years ago at the age of 73 left her determined to carry out his last wish to help Iwao, who is now 78 and holds the world record for longest time served on death row.

She said that two years ago she was relieved to learn of scientifically proven results that DNA from blood found on clothes believed to have been worn by the killer did not match her brother’s.

Hideko, who lives alone, works at a law firm in Hamamatsu. Her weekly visits to the Tokyo Detention House, where Iwao has been incarcerated, have been part of her life for nearly 40 years. “I visited him 400 or 500 times,” she said.

However, he has repeatedly refused to meet her for the past 3½ years. She has heard the former professional boxer is suffering from advanced dementia and a mental illness, which only adds to her anger and frustration. “If I could see his face, I would know if he’s in good health,” she said.

Owing to her own advanced age, she is determined to remain healthy for the sake of her brother.

She said she exercises every morning.

“The defense lawyers tell me not to die because if I died, no one could file an appeal anymore,” she said.

She added that she plays Mahjong games online to keep her mind active.

After devoting so much time to supporting her brother, she said she feels as if her whole life has been centered on Iwao, with no time to rest.

“I want to free him as early as possible,” she told a news conference in the morning with a trembling voice. He was released later that afternoon.

Remembering that he once told her during a prison visit that he wanted a new suit, she has already prepared one for the day when he will be able to wear it in freedom.