Author Archives: Kana Sasakura

Breaking News: Man Released from Prison by Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office

It was reported today in Japan that a man who was sentenced to 12 years in prison had been released. He was accused and convicted of rape and indecent assault, but filed a motion for a retrial.

The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office has decided that he was actually innocent and already submitted a statement to the Osaka District Court.

It is said that the testimony of the victim which was the main evidence of his guilt was found to be false.

More news will follow…

More on Hakamada Case…

Previous posts on Hakamada case here and here.

From the Japan Times:

Prosecutors concealed evidence that could have cleared Hakamada, lawyers allege

Kyodo, Aug 6, 2014

Prosecutors have apologized for concealing critical evidence that might have cleared Iwao Hakamada, the former professional boxer who spent more than 40 years on death row before being released from prison in March, according to his lawyers.

The head of Hakamada’s legal team, Katsuhiko Nishijima, alleged at a news conference on Tuesday that prosecutors had admitted making incorrect claims, concealing the existence of photographic negatives showing bloodstained clothes said to have been worn by the culprit.

Hakamada, 78, was a live-in employee at a soybean processing company when he was arrested in August 1966 on robbery, murder and arson charges. The Shizuoka District Court sentenced him to death in 1968 for allegedly slaying an executive of the company, his wife and their two children in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Five pieces of bloodstained clothing, including a shirt, were found at the company’s plant more than a year later, and became decisive evidence at his trial. But the Shizuoka District Court decided to reopen the case, judging based on DNA tests of the bloodstains that the clothing was not Hakamada’s and had not been worn by the culprit at the time of the murder.

The photographs were reportedly taken soon after the bloodstained clothes were discovered inside one of tanks used for soybean fermentation, 14 months after the slayings.

The Shizuoka District Court’s decision suggested the evidence could have been fabricated by investigating officers, as the color of the clothes did not look like they had been soaked in miso paste for over a year.

“The negatives may be crucial in judging whether the evidence has been tainted,” one of Hakamada’s attorneys said.

According to the lawyers, as many as 111 negatives have been found and some of them have already been analyzed by the prosecution.

“The evidence was intentionally concealed and we’re not going to leave it like this,” Nishijima said, adding that the information was discovered in a statement that prosecutors issued on July 17.

The statement said police were in possession of the negatives and that prosecutors found them after the Shizuoka District Court reopened the case, which led to Hakamada’s release.

During the first meeting held between Hakamada’s lawyers, prosecutors and the court on Tuesday at the Tokyo High Court to review his conviction and sentence, the prosecution issued an apology for failing to disclose the evidence, saying they will provide further explanation in a written statement.

“We don’t know what else beside the five pieces of clothing we may find in the photographs, but we believe that some of the photographs have probably never been disclosed,” Hakamada’s attorneys said during the press conference.

The next meeting between the prosecutors, Hakamada’s lawyers and the court is scheduled for Oct. 23. His lawyers said they plan to respond to the prosecution’s statements by the end of October.

Presiding Judge Takaaki Oshima has not specified when the court will issue a final decision.

First Execution This Year in Japan

The first execution in 2014 was carried out on June 26 in Japan. This was the 9th execution under the Abe administration. Many organizations, including Japan Federation of Bar Associations, EU and Amnesty International , immediately filed a statement opposing the execution.

From the Japan Times:

Man who killed three, including kids, hanged
by Tomohiro Osaki

Brushing aside renewed public concerns over capital punishment, the government executed a 68-year-old death row inmate Thursday morning for three “brutal” and “selfish” murders committed seven years ago. Two of the victims were children.

In November 2007, Masanori Kawasaki sneaked into the Kagawa Prefecture home of Keiko Miura, his 58-year-old sister-in-law, and stabbed her multiple times. He also knifed to death the victim’s two grandchildren, Akane Yamashita, 5, and Ayana, 3. Kawasaki then buried their bodies nearby.

The Supreme Court finalized his death penalty in July 2012.

Thursday’s execution comes as public concern over capital punishment flared anew in March after the release of Iwao Hakamada, the world’s longest-serving death row inmate, upon a review of the DNA evidence that found Hakamada spent nearly five decades behind bars for murders he almost certainly didn’t commit.

Japan and the United States are the only Group of Eight industrialized nations that put people to death.

At a news conference after the hanging, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki condemned Kawasaki’s deeds as “brutal” and “driven by selfish reasons,” noting the killings left kin grief-stricken to an “unimaginable degree.”

As he did following previous executions, Tanigaki defended the hanging as the outcome of “careful scrutiny.”

“We went over his case repeatedly before greenlighting his hanging,” Tanigaki said.

Of the 129 inmates now on death row, 89 are seeking retrials and 24 amnesty.

When asked to comment on the timing of the hanging, Tanigaki declined to elaborate.

“As justice minister, I consider it my highest priority to do everything in my capacity to confirm if an individual really committed the deed they are held culpable for” to avoid wrongful executions, he said.

Tanigaki added that he doesn’t think the capital punishment system needs to be reviewed at this time.

Human rights group Amnesty International was quick to express outrage, saying the hanging ignored the global community’s calls on Japan to end the “dehumanizing” practice.

Regarding the Hakamada incident, the group said the government is deeply reproachable for leaving him exposed to the terror of a looming execution for nearly five decades despite “extremely high odds of his innocence.”

“The government should take this fact seriously and do its utmost to overhaul the current criminal justice system. And as a first step for that, we believe it’s imperative capital punishment be suspended immediately,” the group said, adding that few details of the death penalty are disclosed to the public. The Japan Federation of Bar Association, too, issued a statement demanding capital punishment be halted and more information be disclosed to the public to spur a robust debate on the issue.

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An Exoneree’s Veritas Against Wrongful Convictions

From Exoneree Fernando Bermudez:

NY Exoneree, Fernando Bermudez, visited Harvard Law School April 17, 2014, as part of a Prison Studies Project sociology class entitled, “From Plantations to Prisons”.

Speaking in a packed room to standing ovation, Bermudez discussed his unjust conviction and his struggle against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder while reflecting on his fight to prevent wrongful convictions through best practices and accountability. However, Mr. Bermudez and his wife also consider their social justice work a family affair. “Bringing our children to some of my lectures allows them to better understand the consequences of wrongful convictions while encouraging their work to reduce this human rights problem,” Bermudez says. “Nor does it hurt that exploring colleges and universities with them enhances their future academic options.”

Mr.Bermudez served over 18 years in New York State maximum security prisons following his wrongful conviction in the shooting death of Raymond Blount in 1991. He was found actually innocent based on police and prosecutorial misconduct in late 2009 with assistance from pro bono attorneys from Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New York.
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Breaking News: Court Decides to Reopen Hakamada Case

Previous posts on Hakamada case here and here.

This is a case from 1966. Iwao Hakamada has been held in confinement for 48 years. He is at Tokyo Detention Center, on death row.

Shizuoka District Court granted Hakamada’s petition for retrial today, saying that a new DNA testing result indicates that one crutial piece of evidence did not come from Hakamada.

It is the 6th time since 1945 that the courts grant a retrial in a death penalty case. However, the prosecutors still have a chance to appeal the decision.

PostScript:
Iwao Hakamada was released from the Tokyo Detention Center at around 17:20 JST on March 27th, 2014.

From Mainichi Shimbun News:
Court decides to reopen 1966 murder of 4

SHIZUOKA, Japan (Kyodo) — The Shizuoka District Court decided Thursday to reopen a high-profile 1966 murder case in which a former professional boxer has been on death row for more than 30 years for killing four people.

The court also decided to suspend the death penalty for Iwao Hakamada, 78, who was convicted of murdering Fujio Hashimoto, 41-year-old managing director of a soybean processing firm, his wife and their two children and setting fire to their home on June 30, 1966, in Shimizu city, Shizuoka Prefecture, which is now a part of Shizuoka city, as well as his detention.

During the petition for a retrial, his defense lawyers obtained DNA test results that indicated the DNA-type from blood stains detected on five pieces of clothing, which were said to have been worn by the culprit, is different from Hakamada’s.

Accepting the argument, Presiding Judge Hiroaki Murayama said, “The clothes were not those of the defendant,” indicating the possibility that investigators had fabricated the evidence.

Murayama also said, “It is unjust to detain the defendant further, as the possibility of his innocence has become clear to a respectable degree.”

It is the sixth time in postwar Japan that a court has approved a retrial for a defendant for whom capital punishment had been finalized. Of the other five, four were acquitted.

Hakamada, a live-in employee at the soybean processing firm, temporarily admitted to the charges after being arrested in August 1966, but changed his plea to one of innocence from the first court hearing.

Despite his plea, the Shizuoka District Court sentenced him to death in 1968, with the sentence finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

He filed his first appeal for a retrial in 1981, which was rejected by the top court in 2008, prompting his sister Hideko, 81, to file a second appeal immediately.

Despite the district court decision, it may still take time before a retrial can begin as prosecutors, who argued that the reliability of the DNA test is low, are expected to appeal the decision to the Tokyo High Court.

The defense team has urged prosecutors not to appeal, given that Hakamada’s mental state has deteriorated during almost 50 years in prison. Amnesty International Japan also issued a statement seeking the immediate start of a retrial, saying, “It is not too much to say that the unfair, long-time detention of a death row inmate is torture.”

After hearing the decision, Hideko said, “I am truly thankful,” while Katsuhiko Nishijima, who heads the defense team, said, “Mr. Hakamada’s strong desire has finally been attained.”

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Breaking Chains in France

ImageFrom  NY exoneree, Fernando Bermudez:

 
        There’s a little known fact about the Statue of Liberty: broken chains around the statue’s ankle symbolize the historical fact that America broke free from British oppression and the tyranny of the king to establish a democratic republic.
 
        For me, my recent lecture in France symbolizes broken chains upon my exoneration in 2009 after over 18 years in 7 maximum security prisons in New York state. Like my lectures throughout Italy, Germany, Japan and America, I expose the consequences of wrongful convictions to help prevent their harm. Besides lending my life passion and purpose this also eases — stage fright, be damned! — my symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, like anxiety and sadness, that affect me as if still incarcerated.  Yet within my professional standards to deliver original lectures each time, my difficulty in crash-coursing French was admittedly learning which letters not to pronounce. Thus accomplished, my wife Crystal and I joined Project Innocence France, led by prominent criminal defense attorney, Sylvain Cormier, to advance newly discovered evidence standards via congressional support in France.
 
        As I stood before a crowded, nationally televised auditorium at the Lyon III School of Law, my presentation compared Alexander Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo to my very real experience with prosecutorial misconduct in America. According to the National Registry of Exoneration, prosecutorial misconduct is responsible for about 21% of 1,100 registered wrongful convictions in America during 1989-2012. This includes my 1991 arrest where my pro bono legal team and I proved a prosecutor’s knowing use of perjured testimony with coercion and threats against teenage witnesses, resulting in my case becoming the first Latin-American man proven “actually innocent” in NY state legal history without DNA-evidence.
 
        To encourage current and future Project Innocence France law student interns to fight all causes of wrongful convictions, however, I discussed that in 1787 the Charity Judiciary Association became the first French association of lawyers, nobility and business folk devoted to fighting wrongful convictions, prompting King Louis the 16th to voice support. Smiling, Charity Judiciary members present also agreed that Alexis de Tocqueville’s take in “Democracy In America” that solitary confinement harms prisoner health is still empirically supported after he visited Sing Sing prison in 1836, the same prison that released me in 2009. Refocusing, I concluded with how the Statue of Liberty’s symbolism has grown to include freedom and democracy as well as the international friendship between France and America and other countries to secure human rights around the world, and why law students should help stop wrongful convictions.
 
        Then came fun beyond shaking hands and my private encouragement to law students wherever their fight against wrongful convictions occurs. As the culinary capital of the world, France offered gastronomical delights from fresh rum crepes and foie gras to fine quality blue cheeses and buttery snails, one splashing a restaurant window from over-squeezed snail tongs launching it. Moreover, beyond the Rhone and Saone Rivers lay the Gallo-Roman Museum where an ancient Roman amphitheater overlooking Lyon’s cobbled streets teemed with shoppers, beautiful accordion music and occasional beggars dressed like goats clacking and bleating for money. Paris, too, was equally impressive by speeding train two hours away with its Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Notre-Dame Cathedral that Crystal and I explored while kissing by pedaled taxi. Our trip concluded by visiting Zurich, Switzerland where subway police allowed public drinking and drunkenness with stern, watchful looks that seemed to limit Swiss nightlife fun to just that.
 
        Was this trip worth it before my own drunk-with-sleep, jet-lagged return to America? Yes! For me, lecturing throughout the world with cultural explorations lends additional meaning, purpose and joy amid my broken chains and the losses and pain that I still feel after my wrongful incarceration. I believe, as my first pro bono attorney, MaryAnn DiBari, has always encouraged, that innocent men and women who are wrongfully convicted must step out of Lady Liberty’s broken chain and look to God for the light of love and liberty that exonerates them and helps heal  our wounds. While I lost over 6,700 days of freedom in prison as an innocent man, I have more reasons to make the most of whatever days I have left. 
 
        For encouragement, I keep the poet Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “The New Colossus (1883) in mind. Engraved on bronze plaque on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, it says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to which I add: And your innocent in prison who deserve liberty, justice and equality!
 
        This, as the French would say, is my “raison d’ etre, or reason for existence, everyday, every journey, to scatter more apple seeds for justice to help stop wrongful convictions.
 

Ex-detention officer tells court how death row inmates are executed

Japan still retains the death penalty. Polls suggest that the majority of citizens (more than 85%) support the ultimate punishment. However, when talking with friends or students, I often find that people do not necessarily know about the punishment. Some do not even know how the executions are carried out.

This is also true in death penalty cases where the citizens participate as lay judges (saiban-in) and decide the facts and also the punishment. Lay judges do not know the situation of the death row inmates and executions, but they are asked to impose the punishment.

In an effort to let the lay judges know about the punishment at trial in deciding the sentence, some lawyers have called experts or ex-officers to testify. Here is a story about this effort.

from the Mainichi Japan:

OSAKA (Kyodo) — A former detention officer told a court Monday how death row inmates in Japan are treated and how they are executed during a trial of a murder-robbery case.

“The trapdoor on the floor opens and (death row inmates) fall at least 4 meters below and after they suffer cardiac arrest, they are left hanging for five minutes so they cannot be resuscitated,” detention officer-turned-writer Toshio Sakamoto told the Osaka District Court’s Sakai branch.

Sakamoto, known for his book “Record of an Executioner,” also said death row inmates are kept in solitary confinement except when they are allowed to exercise or take a bath.

Detention officers are informed about an execution the day before and try not to make it obvious to the inmate, he added.

Sakamoto was testifying on behalf of defendant Munehiro Nishiguchi, 52, who is charged with murdering Takeko Tamura, 67, in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, in November 2011 and robbing her of around 310,000 yen, as well as murdering Soshu Ozaki, 84, former vice president of household product manufacturer Zojirushi Corp., in Sakai a month later and robbing him of 800,000 yen.

February 25, 2014(Mainichi Japan)