Apparently perplexed but yet thrilled to find himself in the spotlight, Iwao Hakamada, formerly the world’s longest-serving death-row inmate, appeared for the first time in public Monday since being hospitalized after his release.

Supporters cheered Hakamada at an event in Tokyo to raise his spirits as he awaits the Tokyo High Court’s decision on an appeal by the prosecution to deny him a retrial for the 1966 quadruple-murder case he was convicted for.

After nearly five decades of imprisonment, the 78-year-old was freed last month after the Shizuoka District Court ordered a retrial. The prosecutors immediately appealed.

Hakamada’s death sentence was finalized in 1980, but his appeal for a retrial was finally accepted last month after new DNA evidence surfaced. Showered with applause from the throng of reporters and supporters, Hakamada eagerly responded by giving a V sign and waving, his face aglow with childlike delight and curiosity.

Accompanied by his 81-year-old sister, Hideko, Hakamada made occasional attempts to speak, sometimes mumbling, other times speaking fully with gestures.

Much of his speech, however, made little sense, apparently testifying to the mental deterioration reportedly brought on by his decades of incarceration.

“I hope he will regain the other half of his true self over six months,” his sister said.

Though physically healthy, Hakamada has symptoms of dementia, she said, adding that he often refuses to take his medication. But even during these lulls, her brother occasionally turns lucid and is able to carry on a normal conversation, she said.

The event attracted human rights lawyers and supporters who said they would do their best to prove his innocence if a retrial is granted at the high court.

Using unusually harsh language, the judges at the Shizuoka court pointed out the likelihood that the evidence against Hakamada was fabricated, calling any further attempts to keep him in prison “unforgivably” unjust.

But the prosecutors appealed March 31. Hakamada’s supporters criticized the move as unrepentant and a desperate bid to save face.

At Monday’s event, Susumu Murakoshi, president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, criticized the prosecuting authorities’ long-held reluctance to fully disclose the evidence in their possession and videotape the entire interrogation process.

“Putting an innocent person in jail and sentencing him to hang is the worst human rights violation imaginable,” Murakoshi said.

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