OTSU, SHIGA PREF. - A court ordered Wednesday a retrial for a deceased man who was convicted of murdering a 69-year-old woman in 1984 in Shiga Prefecture, endorsing new evidence and acknowledging suspicions that he was forced into a confession after being beaten by police officers.
The decision by the Otsu District Court in the prefecture quashed the Osaka High Court’s ruling in 2011 that dismissed Hiromu Sakahara’s plea for a retrial. Sakahara died the same year, and in 2012 his family filed a second retrial petition with the district court.
It is believed to be the first time a Japanese court has ordered a retrial sought by the family of a deceased convict.
Sakahara was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison on charges he killed Hatsu Ikemoto, a liquor store manager in the town of Hino, and seized her cash box.
After being arrested and indicted in 1988, Sakahara argued that his original confession during the investigation was made under coercion.
The focal point of the trial was the method of the murder and whether Sakahara’s confession was credible.
The family’s defense team claimed it was impossible to murder the woman in the way Sakahara had explained in his confession and submitted a lab result by a forensic doctor as new evidence.
The new evidence showed the woman had been knocked down on her back and strangled, while Sakahara had confessed to strangling her from behind.
The district court weighed the evidence and supported the defense team’s claim that wounds on the woman’s body did not match the way Sakahara had said he murdered her.
The court also questioned the credibility of his confession, the strongest evidence for his conviction, suspecting he was forced to confess after police beat him and threatened to harm his family.
In 1995, the district court found Sakahara guilty and sentenced him to life in prison. The high court and the Supreme Court later upheld the ruling, finalizing his conviction in 2000.