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One of the three Shizuoka District Court judges who in 1968 sentenced a pro boxer to hang for four murders said Friday he thought at the time the man was innocent.

The judge, Norimichi Kumamoto, 69, said he agreed to the death sentence after the two other judges involved in the case made the decision, despite having prepared a 360-page document citing reasons supporting the man’s innocence.

Kumamoto, who resigned from the bench shortly after agreeing to the sentence, made the remark the day before the 71st birthday of Iwao Hakamada, who has been on death row for over 40 years, during which time he has sought a retrial for the murder of a family of four Shimizu in June 1966.

Speaking at a Tokyo assembly opposed to the death penalty, Kumamoto said: “I thought (at the time) we could not find him guilty, judging from material evidence. . . . I thought the five pieces of evidence that were provided did not make sense.”

According to lawyer Katsuhiko Nishijima, who heads Hakamada’s defense, prosecutors provided five pieces of bloodstained clothing as evidence that Hakamada killed a soybean paste company executive and his family, but the trousers did not fit the one-time professional boxer.

Kumamoto and the lawyer also claimed that the court rejected 44 out of 45 letters that were introduced in which Hakamada confessed to the killings, questioning whether they had been written voluntarily.

Despite a stipulation that judges must keep their decision-making secret, Kumamoto explained the rule is meant to protect the judges involved in the process, and thus he is free to speak out.

Hakamada was sentenced to death in 1968. He lost appeals at the Tokyo High Court and the Supreme Court, and his retrial request has also been rejected. A new appeal is now before the Supreme Court.

Death row ranks at 100

The number of finalized death row sentences reached 100 Thursday when the Supreme Court rejected an inmate’s request to have his sentence reduced, sources said Friday. The tally is based on Justice Ministry records dating to 1958.

The top court’s No. 3 petty bench Thursday turned down a Feb. 26 request to scrap a Feb. 20 decision to uphold 55-year-old Kazuo Shinozawa’s death sentence.

Shinozawa was convicted of killing six female employees at a jewelry shop in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, on June 11, 2000.

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