National / Crime & Legal

Death row inmate seeking retrial over 1961 wine-poisoning murders dies at 89

Kyodo

An 89-year-old death row inmate who was seeking a retrial for his 1961 conviction over the infamous wine poisoning murders in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, died in a Tokyo prison Sunday, his lawyers said.

Masaru Okunishi, who was arrested in 1961 on suspicion of murder and attempted murder, initially admitting to lacing wine with an agricultural chemical that killed five women, including his wife, but retracted his confession before being indicted.

In May, Okunishi’s defense lawyers said they had filed a ninth petition for a retrial with the Nagoya High Court, following the finalization of his death sentence in 1972.

The high-profile case involved the poisoning of 17 people at a community meeting in Nabari in March 1961. Five women died and 12 others fell sick after drinking poisoned wine.

Okunishi was arrested the following month and initially told investigators he had mixed the wine with an agricultural chemical to “end a love triangle” with his wife and another woman.

In 1964 the Tsu District Court acquitted Okunishi, citing a lack of evidence. But in 1969 the Nagoya High Court overturned the acquittal and sentenced him to death, a ruling upheld by the Supreme Court in 1972.

Okunishi was transferred to a Nagoya hospital in May 2012 from a detention center in the city after developing a fever and symptoms of pneumonia. He was moved the following June to a prison that could provide more comprehensive medical treatment in Hachioji, Tokyo.

He condition deteriorated in 2013, but he recovered and was receiving treatment while using a ventilator.