With the Tokyo High Court overturning the 2014 Shizuoka District Court decision to reopen the trial of Iwao Hakamada for murders committed in 1966 — over which he had already been kept behind bars for 48 years until his release four years ago — the 82-year-old Hakamada will likely have to wait for still longer before a judicial conclusion on his retrial bid. Given the split decisions by the lower courts, the Supreme Court, to which his defense counsel plans to appeal, needs to carefully — but promptly, given Hakamada’s advanced age — examine the case.
In postwar Japan, court decisions have been made to reopen the cases of six death-row inmates. Of the six, Hakamada is the second one whose retrial decision was later reversed — after Masaru Okunishi, who was sentenced to death over the 1961 fatal poisoning case in Nabari, Mie Prefecture. The Nagoya High Court in 2005 decided to reopen Okunishi’s trial — a decision withdrawn the following year by the same court following prosecutors’ challenge. Okunishi died at the age of 89 at a medical prison in Tokyo in 2015 — while his ninth retrial plea was being processed. The four others were found innocent in their retrials.