Takehiko Hirasawa has devoted himself to clearing the name of his adoptive father, who was convicted in the Teigin Incident, the most notorious mass-poisoning case in postwar Japan.
“I cannot leave the erroneous ruling on my father as it is,” the 49-year-old Tokyo resident said, showing his readiness to continue the struggle even though the incident took place 60 years ago this month.
His adoptive father, Sadamichi Hirasawa, was sentenced to death in 1950 on charges of fatally poisoning 12 people at a Teikoku Ginko (Imperial Bank) branch in Tokyo on Jan. 26, 1948, and seizing cash and checks. He confessed during interrogation but later retracted his admission and pleaded innocent in court.
Petitions for a retrial were filed with the Tokyo High Court 18 times until he died of natural causes in prison in May 1987 at age 95, but all of them were rejected.
The 19th petition, filed after his death, is now pending at the high court, with Takehiko Hirasawa and a group of lawyers submitting what they claim is new evidence, including a memorandum by an investigator that indicates the investigation team believed someone from a secret unit within the old Imperial Japanese Army was involved in the murder due to the rareness of the poison.
The lawyers plan to submit additional evidence, including expert opinions questioning the credibility of the confession and the police lineup used to identify Hirasawa as the murderer.
“The deposition documents of Mr. Hirasawa show he resigned himself to his fate and tried to play the role of the criminal as investigators demanded when he confessed,” said Sumio Hamada, a psychology professor at Nara Women’s University. “It is a typical example of a false confession.”
Hamada doubts the credibility of the identification of Hirasawa by witnesses in the lineup. “The survivors of the Teigin Incident faced Mr. Hirasawa half a year later, after their initial memories had been distorted by seeing the faces of many suspicious people,” he said.
“We also want to conduct a chemical test to prove that the poison was not potassium cyanide as the final ruling determined,” Takehiko Hirasawa said.
If the poison had been potassium cyanide, the victims would have been in agony immediately. Instead, the effects were delayed, suggesting they had been given a special poison developed by a secret military unit, such as the infamous Unit 731, the legal team argues.
“I believe there was a hidden intention within the postwar power structure to sweep the Teigin Incident under the rug,” Takehiko said. “But I have been driven by a determination to redress the injustice since I met my (adoptive) father for the first time at a contact room in prison 35 years ago.”
Takehiko Hirasawa was adopted by the Hirasawa family when he was 22 so he could take over the retrial campaign that was headed by his natural father, Tetsuro Morikawa, a well-known writer.
Currently, five lawyers are working with Takehiko Hirasawa without compensation on behalf of Sadamichi, meeting monthly. One of the lawyers said, laughing, “People often ask me ‘Are you still involved in such an old case?’ “
The lawyers know that it is a hard road that lies ahead of them.
“It is extremely difficult in Japan to open the door for a retrial, even if a defense team comes up with new evidence,” said one of the lawyers, Koichi Kikuta, a professor emeritus at Meiji University. “But we need to break it down” to bring about justice.
Despite the legal difficulties, Takehiko Hirasawa’s other challenge, to restore his father’s reputation as a painter, has made headway.
Hirasawa had been a highly acclaimed tempera artist, but his reputation was damaged by his arrest. Many of his works were discarded or kept in storehouses.
Some 120 works have been found since his death, enabling Takehiko Hirasawa to hold exhibitions dedicated to his work several times in Tokyo and Hokkaido, where Hirasawa spent his youth.
This April, some of his tempera paintings will be displayed at Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art in Sapporo for a special exhibition, together with some 110 other works.
“Mr. Hirasawa developed a nationwide reputation as a tempera artist, and he is the crucial person in reviewing the history of Japanese paintings,” said Naoko Tomana, curator at the museum.
“We have determined that his works are worth display in the special program,” she said, suggesting his criminal status has not affected the museum’s decision.
The newly found paintings include pornographic works that Hirasawa is believed to have drawn merely for profit, according to Takehiko Hirasawa. “The existence of the obscene paintings indicates he did not have to run the risk of robbing a bank for money.”
Looking back on their meetings in prison, he cannot forget the day when his father shed tears after the 17th retrial petition was rejected shortly before his death.
“He was usually high-spirited, but he told me at that time, ‘Could you do something for me?’ He must have gone through unimaginable suffering when he faced the news of the rejection in his solitary cell.”
Hirasawa often said that the Justice Ministry would release him if he could survive to be 100 years old, “but he had five years more to live when he died.”
“He lived desperately in prison, showing me the preciousness of life.”
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