• Kyodo


The Nagoya High Court said Tuesday it would grant a retrial for a man who has been on death row since 1972 for poisoning five women in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, in 1961.

Masaru Okunishi, 79, was convicted of poisoning the women with tainted wine.

The court made the decision in response to the seventh retrial application filed by the defense counsel, citing new evidence that could prove his innocence.

Presiding Judge Junichi Koide said, “The court has serious doubts about the credibility of the confessions of the defendant, so he cannot be assumed as the culprit.”

Koide said the new evidence submitted by the defense has “sufficient evidentiary power” to possibly lead to an acquittal in a retrial.

Kazushige Sugimoto, deputy chief at the Nagoya High Public Prosecutor’s Office, expressed regret at the court ruling. He did not say whether the state would appeal.

“We will carefully examine the court ruling and will make an appropriate decision upon consultation with the” Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office, he said in a statement.

Five women, including Okunishi’s wife and his lover, died after drinking poisoned wine at a party at a community center in Nabari on March 28, 1961.

Okunishi initially confessed to putting pesticide in the wine because he wanted to terminate the love triangle. He later retracted his confession.

The new evidence focuses on experts’ opinions on the type of pesticide put in the wine and the way the wine bottle was opened.

The high court ruling said the prosecutors’ argument that only Okunishi possessed the type of pesticide used in the murders is not fully supported by the evidence presented by the state.

Okunishi, who is in prison in Nagoya, was acquitted by the Tsu District Court in 1964. But the Nagoya High Court reversed the decision in 1969 and sentenced him to hang. This ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1972.

After hearing the latest court decision, Okunishi released a statement through one of his lawyers, saying: “I am grateful for the decision, as it was my ardent wish. This is the best day for me since I got here, and I would like to thank all of my counsel, experts and others who have supported me to this day.”

His counsel said in a statement that Okunishi would finally have the chance to prove his innocence after facing the threat of the gallows for more than 30 years.

The counsel also urged prosecutors not to file an appeal and release Okunishi as soon as possible.

It is the fifth time a court has decided to allow a retrial for a death row inmate. The last time was in 1986 at the Shizuoka District Court. All the convicts in those four other cases were eventually acquitted.

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