86-year-old Masaru Okunishi is still on death row. He has spent more than half of his life in custody, 40 years on death row. Will he get a retrial? The Nagoya High Court will rule later this month, on May 25 on the 51-year-old Nabari Case. (See Mark Godsey’s previous post about this case here)
In March 1961, 5 people were killed and 12 got ill in a rural town in Mie Prefecture. They were at a gathering in the town and drank a bottle of wine, which was poisoned with pesticide. Since Masaru Okunishi was the one who delivered the wine to the gathering and because both his wife and lover were killed in the incident, he soon became a suspect. The police’s theory was that he put the poison in wine and killed his wife and lover, getting rid of the “love triangle” relationship. After 5 days of intense interrogation, he confessed. He was charged for the murders.
The main evidence against him were: 1. his confession, 2. the fact that the wine was in his possession right before the incident, 3. the bite mark that was left on the lid of the wine bottle which the prosecution alleged to have matched his.
The Tsu District Court handed down the decision in December 1964. The court found Okunishi “not guilty” of the crime. The Court said that the confession was unreliable, the witnesses’ testimony on the delivery and possession of the wine was unreliable and the bite mark on the lid could not be determined as his.
The prosecutors appealed and the Nagoya High Court reversed, sentencing Okunishi to death in 1969. The Supreme Court denied Okunishi’s appeal and the death sentence was finalized in 1972.
Then began Okunishi’s long fight for freedom. Since 1972, he has filed petition for retrial for seven times. The seventh petition was filed in 2002 to the Nagoya High Court. The Court at first granted a retrial based on the new evidence. The new evidence was a testing result by a chemist, who concluded that the pesticide which was in the wine was not “Nikkarin-T”, the chemical that Okunishi confessed he used.
However, after hearing the challenge by the prosecutors, it reversed its decision. Okunishi appealed, and the Supreme Court referred the case back to the High Court.
On May 25, 2012, the Nagoya High Court will rule on whether to open the case again.
Here is Okunishi’s message to his supporters on May 11, 2012:
“This time, this time I believe that a good decision will be handed down. I would like to clear my name and see all my family, and live the short life that is left.
“My lawyers have argued again and again for my innocence. The supporters signed and sent 100,000 petitions and more than 8,000 postcards demanding retrial and my release to the Court. I cannot thank you enough. Thank you…
“I am 86 years old…I will fight with the will that is left, to win the decision of innocence. Thank you for your continuing support.”