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Court denies Nabari poisonings retrial of death-row inmate jailed since 1961

Ailing prisoner disavows poisoning wife, neighbors in eighth petition

Kyodo

The Nagoya High Court has thrown out a request for a retrial from an ailing 88-year-old death-row inmate, his lawyers said Wednesday.

Masaru Okunishi was convicted in connection with the poisoning of 17 people at a local community meeting in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, on March 28, 1961. Five people, including Okunishi’s wife, died after being poisoned with laced wine and another 12 fell ill.

The court’s decision on Wednesday brought an end to Okunishi’s eighth petition for a retrial. In its judgment, the court said he had no case for a retrial because the evidence and arguments presented were the same as in his previous application.

As for the decision’s timing, presiding Judge Yoji Ishiyama cited Okunishi’s deteriorating health and advanced age, noting the prisoner nearly died from ill health on two occasions last year.

Okunishi’s chief counsel, Izumi Suzuki, expressed indignation at the decision, saying that he and other lawyers had argued they would present the court with new evidence. The court’s rejection of the retrial bid was “shocking, surprising and unpardonable,” Suzuki said.

Okunishi initially confessed to the crime during questioning by investigators. But he recanted just before he was indicted on murder charges in April 1961, and has since professed his innocence.

The Tsu District Court in Mie Prefecture acquitted Okunishi in 1964 due to a lack of evidence. But the Nagoya High Court overturned the ruling and sentenced him to death in 1969, a judgment the Supreme Court finalized in 1972.

Okunishi made repeated attempts to seek a retrial in subsequent years, to no avail. But in April 2005, the Nagoya High Court decided to reopen the case in response to his seventh petition, prompting an objection from the prosecution.

Then, in May 2012, the same court rescinded its 2005 decision to reopen the case. After failing to overturn that decision, Okunishi’s side petitioned for a retrial for the eighth time last November.

Okunishi fell ill at the Nagoya Detention House in May 2012. He was transferred to a prison medical facility in Hachioji, western Tokyo, the following month. He almost died of the symptoms in May and June last year, but has since recovered somewhat.

In seeking a retrial, his lawyers focused on whether the poison used in the crime was indeed tetraethyl pyrophosphate, a pesticide that Okunishi had initially confessed to using.