Author Archives: Kana Sasakura

Exoneree Sugiyama Dies at 69

A sad news: Takao Sugiyama died on October 27. He was exonerated in 2011 from a robbery-murder case (Fukawa Case) in 1967.  For more on Fukawa Case, read here.

From The Japan Times:

Man Acquitted in Retrial of ’67 Fukawa Incident Robbery-Murder is Dead at 69

From Jiji: 

A man sentenced to life in a high-profile 1967 robbery-murder known as the Fukawa incident, and acquitted in a later retrial, died on Oct. 27 at the age of 69, lawyers who fought for him in the case revealed Sunday.

Takao Sugiyama had been hospitalized after his health deteriorated around summer, according to the lawyers. Continue reading

Preparing for the Launch of a Network to Support the Wrongfully Convicted in Japan

In May of this year, scholars and attorneys concerned about wrongful convictions in Japan gathered in Kyoto and started to prepare for the launch of an Innocence Project in Japan. We are planning to launch the project in April 2016. Here’s an article about our project.

From the Japan Times:

New technologies, improved practices may boost number of criminal retrials

Kyodo, Nov. 2, 2015

The recent release of a couple from prison after a court ordered a 1995 arson-murder case reopened may allow more people convicted of serious crimes to get a second shot at proving their innocence.

Technical innovations in DNA forensic science modeled on practices in the United States, as well as introduction of the lay judge system, are creating a framework that could provide lawyers and those who may have been wrongly convicted with access to various experts to help bolster their cases.

But many hurdles remain on the road to change.

Keiko Aoki and Tatsuhiro Boku, who had been serving life sentences for lighting a fire that killed Aoki’s 11-year-old daughter, were freed late last month after 20 years behind bars.

The Osaka High Court concluded that a retrial was appropriate as the fire could have been accidental, citing the results of an experiment conducted by the couple’s lawyers to simulate the actual blaze.

Moreover, doubt was cast on confession by Boku, Aoki’s de facto husband, as the simulation demonstrated the fire could have been accidental.

In 1990, Toshikazu Sugaya was arrested and later sentenced to life by a Tochigi Prefecture high court for the murder of a 4-year-old girl. Key in the murder conviction was DNA evidence found on the victim’s clothing that prosecutors said matched Sugaya’s.

But with the primitive forensic technology at the time, more than eight out of every 1,000 people would have also drawn an identical DNA match.

After spending 17½ years in prison, a further DNA test in 2009 conclusively showed that Sugaya was innocent, and he was acquitted and awarded about ¥80 million in government compensation.

Perhaps even more sensational due to the international attention it garnered was the case of Govinda Prasad Mainali, a Nepalese man who was wrongly jailed for 15 years while serving a life sentence for the 1997 murder of a female Tokyo Electric Power Co. worker who reportedly had moonlighted as a prostitute.

The Tokyo High Court ordered a retrial after sets of exculpatory DNA evidence were linked to an unidentified man who had sexual contact with the victim just hours before her death. Mainali was released and deported back to his native Nepal after he was exonerated in November 2012.

Swabs of semen recovered from the woman’s body that the prosecution deemed too small of a sample to analyze using the existing technologies at the time were tested in 2011 and determined not to be from Mainali.

Mainali was later awarded ¥68 million in compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.

Former professional boxer Iwao Hakamada, who had been sentenced to death over the 1966 murder of four members of a family, was released after nearly 48 years behind bars when test results indicated that the DNA type from bloodstains detected on five items of clothing believed to have been worn by the culprit differed from Hakamada’s.

The blood was thought to be that of the attacker and determined unlikely to be from any of the victims.

Although Hakamada initially admitted to the charges, he changed his plea to innocent when the trial opened.

Prosecutors in Japan have a staggering 99 percent conviction rate. Confessions are in most cases considered the strongest evidence and acquittals are anathema to ambitious prosecutors and judges alike, experts argue.

Although it may appear that retrials are on the rise, many observers point out that without “convincing and fresh” evidence the courts remain reluctant to order retrials. And even with fresh evidence — unless it can conclusively prove a person’s innocence — requests for retrials have historically been denied.

Inspired by the U.S.-based Innocence Project, researchers in Japan aim to launch a support network next spring for people believed to have been wrongly convicted.

Mitsuyuki Inaba, a professor at the College of Policy Science and Graduate School of Policy Science at Ritsumeikan University, is spearheading the project. He has criticized the lack of remorse expressed by investigators in wrongful conviction cases and says more must be done to determine the root causes and prevent them.

“In the world of engineering, when an airplane accident occurs, a thorough investigation is conducted,” Inaba said. “But what on earth are the people involved in laws doing when serious human error is committed in the cases of wrongful convictions?”

The Innocence Project, which was founded in 1992 at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, is a nonprofit organization.

In questionable cases, scholars, journalists and lawyers work together to gather new evidence in response to convicts who claim innocence. New technology such as DNA testing, as well as researching cases from fresh perspectives, have resulted in retrials and acquittals of some death-row inmates.

Similar activities have spread to countries such as France, Australia and Taiwan, creating a more global network.

Kana Sasakura, an associate professor of the Konan University Faculty of Law in Kobe, said Japanese courts will not allow retrials unless fresh evidence is strong enough to overturn the original judgment, but collecting such proof remains extremely difficult.

“Unlike in ordinary criminal trials, there is no system for court-appointed defense lawyers, who are publicly financed, at retrials,” said Sasakura. “It is very difficult for convicts held in prisons and detention houses to collect new evidence by themselves that could overturn their convictions.”

Sasakura remains hopeful that eventually the Japanese university project will gain nonprofit status.

“In the future, it would be desirable for the Japanese project to be operated like an NPO, raising donations from the public,” Sasakura said. “For the time being, however, it will probably be operated more stably by having the head office at a university, which will be useful for education if students are interested in joining.”

More on Higashi-Sumiyoshi Arson Case

Read here about Higashi-Sumiyoshi case.


A man and woman serving life in prison for starting a fire that killed the woman’s 11-year-old daughter were freed Monday when the Osaka High Court ordered their release following a decision to reopen the arson-murder case.

At around 2 p.m., Keiko Aoki, 51, walked out of a prison in Wakayama Prefecture while Tatsuhiro Boku, 49, was released from a prison in Oita Prefecture.

They had been behind bars for two decades. Prosecutors had sought to prevent their release.

“I was finally able to return to a world we take for granted,” Aoki told supporters immediately after her release. “I can hear my daughter saying somewhere in this blue sky, ‘Mom, I’m so happy for you.’ “

Speaking in front of Oita Prison, Boku was ebullient.

“Being out here for the first time in 20 years, I feel as if I am standing on foreign land,” he said. “It’s like a dream and the scenery before me looks brilliant.”

Last Friday, the Osaka High Court endorsed a March 2012 lower court decision to grant a retrial to Aoki, the mother of the 11-year-old victim, and Boku, her de facto husband. Both were serving life terms after being found guilty of setting their house on fire in a bid to kill the girl and collect on the life insurance. Continue reading

Breaking News: Osaka High Court Rejects Appeal by Prosecutor, Orders Release in Higashi-Sumiyoshi Arson Case

Osaka High Court rejected the appeal by the prosecutor today, and ordered release of two petitioners (serving life sentences) in a high profile arson case, Higashi Sumiyoshi Case. Read about the case here.

In this case, the Osaka District Court ruled to grant a retrial in 2012. The Presiding Judge stated in the decision that the petitioners’ confessions were unreliable and unreasonable from a “scientific viewpoint”, taking into consideration the result of a new experiment by experts.

However, to the dismay of the supporters, the prosecutors instantly appealed the ruling, and the retrial petition was being reviewed by the Osaka High Court.

Osaka High Court today ruled that according to additional experiments and statements by experts, the confessions by peritioners can no longer be evaluated as reliable. It also ordered release of petitioners from prisons.

The criminal procedure code in Japan writes that the prosecutors can still appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Man acquitted in Osaka After Retrial: Victim’s Recantation

From the Japan Times:

Man Acquitted After Serving 3 1/2 Years in Prison for Rape; Victim Gave False Evidence

Oct 17, 2015

OSAKA – An Osaka court on Friday acquitted a 72-year-old man of rape and indecent assault in a retrial after serving 3½ years of a 12-year prison term.

Osaka District Court presiding judge Minamoto Ashitaka said he was “sorry as a judge” that the man’s “freedom was taken away for an extensive period of time for a crime (he) did not commit, and inflicted unimaginable suffering” on him.

The acquittal was finalized the same day as prosecutors gave up their right to appeal. Continue reading

Masaru Okunishi, Death Row Inmate seeking Retrial Dies at 89

A belated post on Nabari Case

From the Japan Times:
Death row inmate seeking retrial over 1961 wine-poisoning murders dies at 89
October 4, 2015 by 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. Continue reading

Prosecutors seek acquittal at a retrial hearing in Osaka (Japan)

From the Japan Times:

Prosecutors seek acquittal of man found guilty of raping girl

Kyodo, Aug. 19, 2015

Prosecutors sought an acquittal on Wednesday in a retrial hearing of a man in his 70s who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for rape and indecent assault.

The man, who had served three and a half years in prison, and his lawyer filed for a retrial last September based on new evidence. He was released last November and the Osaka District Court decided to launch a retrial in February.

The girl had admitted to giving false testimony, and a hospital record was found denying the sexual assault.

The hearing was concluded on Wednesday and the court will hand down its decision on Oct. 16.

During the hearing, the man pleaded not guilty and urged police, prosecutors and judges to look into why the false accusation was made.

The defense counsel criticized the courts that found him guilty for failing to detect the girl’s lie.

Police arrested the man in 2008 and the Osaka District Court found him guilty in 2009. The ruling was upheld by the Osaka High Court and was finalized by the Supreme Court.

Executions in Japan — A Consideration of Judicial Hanging

I have posted in the past about how executions in Japan are carried out.

The Osaka Bar Association made a 25 minute segment on the mechanism of judicial hanging in Japan in 2014. It is now posted on its website. You can watch the English version here.

Please note that it contains forensic explanations of how hanging occurs and may be disturbing for some viewers.

Fernando Bermudez Reaches $4.75 Million Settlement for Wrongful Imprisonment

Courtsey of Fernando Bermudez.

From the LA Times:

By Javier Panzar and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Dec 23, 2014

A New York man who spent 18 years in prison for murder he did not commit will receive a $4.75-million settlement from the state, the largest award for a wrongful conviction in New York history.

Fernando Bermudez was arrested in a 1991 shooting and convicted the next year of second-degree murder, but a judge in 2009 declared him innocent after several witnesses recanted their testimony.  Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

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.

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.”

Continue reading

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)

Wrongfully Convicted Man Released After 10 Years in Washington State

Congratulations to Brandon Olebar and to the Innocence Project Northwest!

From the Seattle Times:

December 23, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Wrongly convicted King County man released after 10 years in prison

Posted by Mike Carter

A man who spent 10 years in prison for robbery and burglary has been released after the Innocence Project Northwest persuaded King County prosecutors to re-examine the man’s conviction, which was based solely on eyewitness testimony.

The case of Brandon Olebar came to the attention of the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW),  based out of the clinical law program at the University of Washington Law School, in 2011. The project said two students “developed a body of evidence” that showed Olebar was not among the assailants who in February 2003 broke into the home of Olebar’s sister’s boyfriend, pistol-whipped and beat him unconscious and then stuffed him in a closet. The victim said as many as eight attackers beat him for more than 10 minutes, during which time he recognized Olebar’s sister as one of them. He told police the attackers had “feather” facial tattoos.

Two days after the beating, the victim identified Brandon Olebar from a photograph montage. Despite the fact that he does not have a facial tattoo and that he had an alibi, Olebar was charged with burglary and robbery, convicted by a King County jury solely on the basis of eyewitness testimony, and sentenced to 16 1/2 years in prison.

IPNW Director Jacqueline McMurtrie said two law students, Nikki Carsley and Kathleen Klineall, tracked down and interviewed three of the assailants, who signed sworn statements admitting their involvement and denying that Brandon Olebar was present. Working with IPN attorney Fernanda Torres, they presented the new evidence to Mark Larson, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. Continue reading

New Evidence Found in 1966 Hakamada Case

My previous post on Hakamada Case here. This is a case from 1966. Hakamada claims his innocence from Tokyo Detention Center, where he is held on death row. He has been held in confinement for over 45 years.

From the Mainichi:

New evidence emerges in 1966 murder case: lawyers

SHIZUOKA, Japan (Kyodo) — New evidence has emerged in a 1966 murder case that suggests the man who has been convicted and is on death row for the crime may have been wrongfully accused, his defense lawyers said Sunday.

The new evidence in favor of Iwao Hakamada, 77, may provide stronger grounds in their appeal for a retrial, the result of which will be decided by the Shizuoka District Court next spring at the earliest.

The lawyers said the new evidence came to light in the witness statements of two colleagues of Hakamada who were staying at the same company dormitory at the time of the crime in June 1966. Continue reading

Japan’s Hanging Method Criticized by U.S. Occupation Officials More than 60 Years Ago

 An important document concerning the capital punishment in Japan was found recently. The document showed that the U.S. occupation officials raised concerns about the execution by hanging. The method is still used today. Read here about how the executions are carried out in Japan.

 From The Asahi Shimbun:

U.S. occupation officials criticized Japan’s hanging method

By GEN OKAMOTO/ Staff Writer

U.S. occupation officials in 1949 raised concerns about how Japan executed prisoners, saying the condemned were not dying quickly enough under the hanging method that is still used today, a document showed.

The concerns were expressed in an internal document from the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) that was found in the National Diet Library by Kenji Nagata, an associate professor of law at Kansai University.

“The document shows that issues were being raised about the hanging method used in Japan from more than 60 years ago,” Nagata said.

The internal document was written by an official in the Civil Intelligence Section (G2) of GHQ and dated Sept. 2, 1949. The subject of the memo is “Executions, Japanese Prisons.”

In the document, an official in the Nagoya area is quoted as calling for a change in capital punishment “so as to effect rapid and more humane death of the subject.”

The statement indicates the official wanted Japan to employ hanging methods then in use in the United States that severed the neck vertebrae to instantly kill the prisoner.

The official in charge of prisons in G2 says in the document that the matter would be brought up with the director of the correction and rehabilitation bureau of what is now the Justice Ministry.

The document was originally kept in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. A copy has been kept at the National Diet Library’s Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room.

Another GHQ internal document showed that 79 people were executed during the occupation period, and the average time before the individual was confirmed dead was about 14 minutes.

Japan’s hanging method has come under fire because those executed do not die quick deaths. Critics say the method violates Article 36 of the Constitution, which states “cruel punishments are absolutely forbidden.”

In a criminal trial held in 2011 at the Osaka District Court, a former prosecutor testified, “At one execution that I witnessed while working as a prosecutor, it took about 13 minutes before the individual died.”

Japan has used hanging for capital punishment since 1873.


Exoneree on a Lecture Tour in Japan

From Fernando Bermudez:

 I Cannot Take Off My Straw Sandals

                                                                                       By Fernando Bermudez

 Strong Hugs. Wiped tears. Repeated reassurances. Through the eyes of my children, my emotional return from Japan reflected more accomplishment than exhaustion after lecturing in 9 Japanese cities from Tokyo to Okayama throughout October 2013. In sharing my 18-year wrongful incarceration story in New York until exonerated in 2009 (due to mistaken eyewitness identifications and police and prosecutorial misconduct), my lectures at Japanese bar associations and universities urged Japan to abolish its death penalty and reduce relying on confessions to secure Japan’s 99% conviction rate, which have caused several wrongful convictions and exonerations in Japan due to false confessions.


Fernando Bermudez in Hiroshima

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