OTSU, Shiga Pref. (Kyodo) The Otsu District Court on Monday rejected an appeal filed by a 70-year-old man for a retrial over his 1984 robbery-murder case in Hino, Shiga Prefecture.
Hiromu Sakahara was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for slaying Hatsu Ikemoto, 69, a liquor store owner, and stealing her cash box. He had sought a retrial, arguing his confession during the investigation was coerced.
But presiding Judge Hidenori Nagai said Monday his confession was “reliable” and noted there was no clear, logical reason Sakahara should be acquitted.
Ikemoto disappeared on the night of Dec. 28, 1984. Her body was found on a grassy area in the town the following month, and the money box was also later found. Sakahara, who had been a customer at Ikemoto’s store, was arrested in March 1988.
He owned up to the killing after being arrested and indicted, but changed his plea to innocent during the trial.
Sakahara’s lawyers argued that the confession was made due to physical beatings and threats, and there was no motive and nor had the accused disclosed any facts that only the culprit could have known. They also stressed that he had an alibi, having stayed at a friend’s house the night the woman vanished.
Although the Otsu District Court in June 1995 rejected the credibility of Sakahara’s confession made during the investigation, it sentenced him to life imprisonment based on other circumstantial evidence. The Osaka High Court, meanwhile, ruled in May 1997 that while questions remain over some points of the confession, the core of it was credible enough to uphold the verdict.
The Supreme Court rejected his appeal and finalized his sentence in September 2000, leading him to file a retrial petition in November 2001.
The two lower court rulings had said Sakahara strangled the woman from behind with his hands, citing his confession. But his lawyers maintained that this did not match the evidence on the body, and submitted with their retrial petition a report from a doctor who concluded the victim was strangled with what may have been a rope.
On Monday, the district court acknowledged the confession did not match the objective facts. However, it claimed that an examination conducted by the court for the retrial petition found that the victim had been strangled by hand and rejected the rope theory.
It also said that because the confession came some three years after the crime, it was possible for some things to have slipped from Sakahara’s memory.
After the appeal for a retrial was rejected, Sakahara’s family and supporters expressed shock and anger.
“I have been fighting all this time in order to free my father, not to hear such a conclusion,” said the convict’s 44-year-old son, Koji. “(The petition) was rejected based on a reason that had no content. How am I supposed to face my father and tell him this?”
Meanwhile, Go Kajitani, chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said the decision runs counter to the ideals of a retrial set by Supreme Court precedent.
“The ruling that finalized the sentence was supported by flimsy evidence. . . . (The federation) is prepared to make every effort toward getting a retrial,” he said.
Sakahara’s defense team said they would appeal the decision immediately.