Proceedings at the Tokyo High Court to determine whether to reopen the trial of Iwao Hakamada, 81, who spent 48 years behind bars over the 1966 murder of a family of four before being released in 2014, remain slow. The snag in the proceedings is mainly attributable to the dispute over reliability of DNA tests of evidence in the case that led to a Shizuoka District Court decision three years ago to release the former death row inmate. However, the DNA tests are not the only factor casting serious doubts over his conviction. In addition, the elderly man is suffering from failing health. The high court should make greater efforts to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.

On June 30, 1966, the stabbed bodies of a soybean processing company executive and three members of his family were found in the remains of their torched home in Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture. In August that year, police arrested Hakamada, who worked at the firm, on suspicion of burglary, arson and murder. Hakamada initially denied the charges but then confessed following nearly 20 interrogation sessions, more than a dozen of which lasted more than 12 hours. During the first hearing of his trial, however, he changed his plea to innocent.

Fourteen months after the crimes, while the first trial was going on at the Shizuoka District Court, investigators said they found five articles of clothing, including a shirt and a pair of trousers, inside a miso fermentation tank at the firm. Although the prosecution had said in its opening statement that Hakamada was wearing pajamas when he committed the crimes, it changed the statement to say that he was wearing that clothing instead. The Shizuoka court sentenced him to death in 1968 and the Supreme Court finalized the ruling in 1980.