The Supreme Court has turned down a 76-year-old death row inmate’s sixth appeal for a retrial in a 1961 wine-poisoning case in which five people were killed.
Lawyers for Masaru Okunishi responded to the rejection by immediately filing his seventh appeal for a retrial with the Nagoya High Court.
In the March 1961 incident, which took place in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, Okunishi’s wife, his alleged girlfriend and three other women died and 12 others became ill after drinking wine laced with agricultural chemicals at a local community party in a public hall.
Following his arrest, Okunishi reportedly admitted he killed the women to “terminate the triangular relationship” with the wife and the girlfriend. Following an indictment, however, he reversed his position and pleaded not guilty to the murder charges.
A ruling in 1964 by the Tsu District Court acquitted him of the charges due to insufficient evidence, but in 1969 the Nagoya High Court sentenced him to death, a decision that was supported and finalized by the Supreme Court in 1972.
The case was noted for its shortage of material evidence. In Okunishi’s sixth appeal for retrial, requested in 1997, his lawyers submitted a notebook written by the then chief of the Nabari police station, saying the memos contained in the notebook raise serious doubts about the prosecution’s argument that there was a time on the night of the murder when Okunishi was alone and able to put the chemicals into the wine.
However, presiding Supreme Court Justice Akira Machida concluded that the chief’s memos were not based on his direct interviews with the parties involved, and determined that witnesses’ accounts that Okunishi had a chance to carry out the crime were “consistent and trustworthy.”
Lawyers representing Okunishi told members of the media Wednesday in Nagoya that Okunishi had said he was prepared for the top court’s decision. They added, however, that he had vowed to fight until his death to clear himself of this “wrongful accusation.”
His bearing appeared calmer than when his earlier appeals for a retrial were rejected by the court, the lawyers said.
“It is quite regrettable that the top court turned down the retrial appeal without waiting for us to submit new evidence,” said Izumi Suzuki, head of the defense team.
Suzuki added that, in the seventh retrial appeal, the defense team will submit evidence proving that people other than Okunishi could have mixed the chemical into the wine before the party.
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