Author Archives: Kana Sasakura

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

Continue reading

Death of inmate’s adoptive son ends ‘Teigin’ retrial bid

My previous post on Teigin Case here.

From the Japan Times:

Death of inmate’s adoptive son ends ‘Teigin’ retrial bid

by Keiji Hirano, Oct 16, 2013

The curtain has effectively come down on the most mysterious mass-murder case in postwar Japan, with numerous questions left unanswered.

Takehiko Hirasawa, 54, who sought a posthumous retrial for his adoptive father, Sadamichi Hirasawa, was recently found dead in a home in Suginami Ward, Tokyo.

Sadamichi Hirasawa was sentenced to hang for poisoning 12 people to death at a branch of Teikoku Ginko (Imperial Bank) in Tokyo on Jan. 26, 1948, in what became known as the “Teigin Incident.” He passed away in a prison hospital on May 10, 1987, at the age of 95, after maintaining his innocence for nearly 40 years. Continue reading

Supreme Court Rejects to Reopen Nabari Case…

Previous posts on Nabari Case here, here and here. This is a murder case from 1961. The defendant, Masaru Okunishi is critically ill, awaiting his execution on a prison hospital bed.


Top court rejects petition to reopen 1961 murder case

TOKYO (Kyodo) — The Supreme Court said Thursday it has turned down a petition by a death row inmate for a retrial over a 1961 murder case in which five women died after drinking poisoned wine in Nabari, central Japan.

In the seventh plea for a retrial, the defense team for Masaru Okunishi, 87, presented an expert opinion that the poison used in the crime was not tetraethyl pyrophosphate as determined in the final ruling.

However, the top court’s No. 1 petty bench unanimously rejected the petition, saying the pesticide could have been used as the poison as Okinishi had initially confessed.

In response, the defense team said it plans to file another plea for a retrial with the Nagoya High Court in the near future.

The case involves the poisoning of 17 people on March 28, 1961, at a local community meeting in Nabari, Mie Prefecture. Five, including Okunishi’s wife, died and 12 fell sick.

The Tsu District Court acquitted Okunishi in 1964 for lack of evidence, but the Nagoya High Court handed him a death sentence in 1969, finalized by the Supreme Court in 1972.

Accepting his petition for a retrial, the high court decided in 2005 to reopen the case and suspend the execution, but another panel of the high court nullified the decision the next year, accepting the appeal of prosecutors.

His petition was again rejected by the high court last year after having the case sent back by the top court, leading Okunishi to file a special appeal to the Supreme Court.

Okunishi has experienced deteriorating health and is in a serious condition at a medical prison in Hachioji in the western suburbs of Tokyo, where he has been held since May.

October 17, 2013(Mainichi Japan)

73 Year-Old Inmate Executed on Sep. 12, 2013 in Japan

From the Japan Times:
Death-row inmate, 73, sixth executed under Abe Cabinet
by Tomohiro Osaki Staff Writer
Sep 12, 2013

Tokuhisa Kumagai, 73, was put to death after Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki signed the order for the execution, the sixth under the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office last December.

About a month after the slaying, Kumagai attempted another robbery during which he shot an employee at Shibuya Station in Tokyo. The station worker narrowly escaped death, but was partially paralyzed.

For this incident, Kumagai was convicted of attempted murder and attempted robbery.

He was also convicted of attempted arson and robbery for earlier incidents.

During a hastily arranged news conference after the hanging, Tanigaki denounced Kumagai’s crimes as “extremely flagrant,” saying the murder and other transgressions were motivated by selfishness and caused immeasurable pain to the families of the victims.

“As a matter of fact, his acts were scrutinized by the courts numerous times, and I myself repeatedly gave them serious considerations before signing the final order,” Tanigaki said. Continue reading

Parolee Charges Authorities for Forcing False Confessions — Sayama Case

From the Japan Times:

Parolee in 1963 Saitama girl’s slaying hits authorities for lying, forcing confessions

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer, Jun 14, 2013

Investigators will lie, grill for hours on end and withhold exonerating evidence — in effect do anything — to extract a confession from a suspect they have pegged for a crime, a 1994 parolee seeking a retrial to clear his name in the 1963 kidnap-murder of a Saitama Prefecture girl said Thursday in Tokyo.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Kazuo Ishikawa, who appeared with his lawyer, Taketoshi Nakayama, pointed to discrepancies in the kanji used in an apparent ransom demand for ¥200,000 and an earlier document he wrote and also alleged that the state looked to him as a usual suspect because of his roots in Japan’s former outcast class known as the “burakumin.” He continues to claim he is innocent.

Ishikawa was arrested in 1963 for the kidnap-slaying of Yoshie Nakata in the town of Sayama. An autopsy carried out on her corpse at the time concluded she had been raped and strangled.

In a notorious case that would become known as the “Sayama Incident,” Ishikawa was initially sentenced to hang. Continue reading

Fabrication of Police Reports Revealed in Japan

Two (!) police scandals were revealed in Japan this week.

One was fabrication of reports and perjury during trial by police officers from the Osaka Prefectural Police, and the other was falsification and concealment of reports by the Kagoshima Prefectural Police.

In the Osaka case, the officers falsified reports and perjured during trial in a  drug case.  The defendant was arrested for obstructing the police officer at a police station. The falsification and perjury involved detention of the defendant in a protection room by a senior officer who did not have the authority to do so. A different officer filed a report saying that the senior officer ordered the confinement, but his superior told to file a false report saying that there was approval by a higher ranking officer. Two reports were then filed. Later at trial, the officers testified that the chain of command was kept. Read about the case here (The Japan Times).

The Kagoshima case involved a suspect who is a gang member.  The victim of the incident told the police officers that he did not know the suspect. A report was filed. Later, the victim changed his statement and told the officers that he knew the suspect. However, the officers fabricated the first report and wrote that the victim knew the suspect, so that the State’s case would not be damaged by inconsistent statements. The charges against the suspect were later dropped. Read about the case here ( in Japanese).

Fabrication of police reports was also revealed recently in Tokyo and Hyogo Prefectures. Both cases were sent to the prosecutor’s office/ indicted.

Japan to Pay 68 Million for 15 Years of Wrongful Incarceration

Previous posts on Govinda Mainali’s case here.
From the Japan Times:

¥68 million redress eyed for Mainali
May 25, 2013

The Tokyo District Court has endorsed paying about ¥68 million in compensation to a Nepali man who was wrongly detained and imprisoned in Japan for 15 years, according to sources.

Govinda Prasad Mainali, 46, was charged with murdering a Japanese woman in 1997 and was handed a life term that was finalized in 2003 before being cleared in a retrial last November.

Mainali was kept in prison until the decision on his retrial was reached last June after the prosecutors were shown to have withheld crucial DNA evidence that could have cleared him. He was acquitted in his initial trial.

Two Executions in Japan…

Two inmates were hanged in Japan yesterday. It seems like the number of executions are increasing in Japan in recent years…

Read more here about the death penalty in Japan and how executions are carried out.

From the Japan Times:

Two inmates hanged for yakuza slayings

by Tomohiro Osaki, Staff Writer

Apr 26, 2013

The inmates were Yoshihide Miyagi, 56, and Katsuji Hamasaki, 64, the Justice Ministry said.

Members of a yakuza syndicate, the pair were convicted of conspiring with an accomplice to gun down two rival gangsters at a family restaurant in Chiba Prefecture in 2005.

The human rights watchdog Amnesty International immediately condemned the hangings, saying the fast pace of executions by the LDP-led government tells the world that Japan is determined to ignore calls by the international community to abolish the death penalty. Continue reading

Exoneree Fernando Bermudez on a Lecture Tour in Germany

From Fernando Bermudez:

Exoneree Fernando Bermudez is now touring around Germany, giving lectures about his experience and the innocence movement in the United States. The cities he will be visiting are: Bochum, Greifswald, Berlin, Passau, Tübingen, Wiesbaden, and Freiburg. Read the news here (in German).

Fernando Bermudez served over 18 years in New York prisons, following his wrongful conviction for murder, until proven innocent in 2009. Continue reading

Jeramie R. Davis Freed After Nearly 6 Years in Prison

Congratulations to Jeramie R. Davis and to the Innocence Project Northwest!

From Spokane, Washington (The Spokesman-Review):

A man who spent nearly six years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit had one request today after a judge set him free: a double cheeseburger from Zips.

Jeramie R. Davis, 42, also looked forward to bonding with his 5-year-old son, Elijah, who was born shortly after his arrest in 2007.

“He really doesn’t know who I am,” Davis said of his son. “I want to get to know him.

Today’s release ended years of investigations, a conviction, DNA tests, a second trial that convicted a different man and scores of legal arguments stemming from the June 17, 2007, bludgeoning death of 74-year-old porn shop owner John G. “Jack” Allen.

“I’m grateful,” Davis said of years of legal battles by defense attorneys Anna Tolin, Kevin Curtis and others who labored on his behalf. Continue reading

Risinger & Risinger on Innocence Lawyers and More…


Here are five recently published works of scholarship relating to wrongful conviction.

(1) Michael D. Risinger and Lesley C. Risinger , The Emerging Role of Innocence Lawyer and the Need for Role-Differentiated Standards of Professional Conduct (March 21, 2013). Sarah Cooper (Ed.) Controversies in Innocence Cases in America, Forthcoming.

Available at SSRN:

(2)Richard A. Leo, Why Interrogation Contamination Occurs (2013). Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Forthcoming; Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper .

Available at SSRN:

(3)Andrew Chongseh Kim, Beyond Finality: How Making Criminal Judgments Less Final Can Further the ‘Interests of Finality’ (March 19, 2013). Utah Law Review, Forthcoming.

Available at SSRN:

(4)Jon Gould,  Julia Carrano, Richard A. Leo and Katie Hail-Jares, Predicting Erroneous Convictions (March 2013). Iowa Law Review, Forthcoming; Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper .

Available at SSRN:

(5) Samuel R Gross, How Many False Convictions are There? How Many Exonerations are There? (February 26, 2013). Wrongful Convictions and Miscarriages of Justice: Causes and Remedies in North American and European Criminal Justice Systems, C. R. Huff & M. Killias eds., Routledge, March 2013 ; U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 316.

Available at SSRN:

Breaking News: Two Retrial Pleas Turned Down in Japan Today…

Unbelievable…… Kagoshima District Court and Nagoya High Court  both turned down the retrial plea of two cases (Ohsaki Case and Fukui Case) today. Read about the Ohsaki Case here, and Fukui Case here.

Here is an article about the Ohsaki case by

Court rejects appeal for retrial over 1979 murder case

KAGOSHIMA, Japan (Kyodo) — The Kagoshima District Court rejected on Wednesday an appeal for a retrial filed by a woman who was convicted and served a 10-year prison term for killing her brother-in-law in 1979 in Kagoshima Prefecture for insurance money.

The decision came after the district court had initially decided to reopen the case involving Ayako Haraguchi, now 85, in 2002, which was overruled by the Fukuoka High Court in 2004. The high court’s decision was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court.

The murder occurred in October 1979, when Kunio Nakamura, 42, was found dead in a cattle stable beside his home in the town of Osaki, Kagoshima. Continue reading

Another Court Decision to be Handed Down Today — Fukui Case


From Yomiuri Shimbun (see the link). Shoji Maekawa, the defendant in Fukui Case (center). Shoji Sakurai (left), and Takao Sugiyama(right), two defendants in so-called Fukawa Case, were both exonerated in 2011.

Two decisions concerning wrongful convictions will be handed down today in Japan. One is  Ohsaki case which I posted about yesterday, and the other is Fukui case.

Fukui case involves a 1986 murder of a 15-year-old girl. The defendant (Shoji Maekawa) in the case was acquitted by the Fukui District Court in 1990, but the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court vacated the decision and gave Maekawa 8 years in prison in 1995 (the Japanese criminal justice system allows the prosecutors to appeal a verdict of acquittal).

Maekawa petitioned to open a retrial in 2004, and the Kanazawa Branch granted his petition in November 2011. The prosecutors filed an objection to the High Court, and the decision by the High Court will be handed down today (on March 6th, 2013).

Read about the Fukui Case here (English, by Asahi Shimbun) and here (Japanese).

Below is an article by Yomiuri Shimbun in 2011: Continue reading

Court to Decide Whether to Retry a Case from 1979 on March 6, 2013– Ohsaki Case

Ms. Ayako Haraguchi. From 47news.

Ms. Ayako Haraguchi. From 47news.

The Kagoshima District Court will decide whether to opne a retrial for a  34-year-old case (so called Ohsaki/ Osaki Case) tomorrow. This is a case where confessions  were crucial pieces of evidence in determining the defendant’s guilt. Ayako Haraguchi, now 85 years of age, is seeking a retrial for the 2nd time. Will she get her day in court?

On October 15th 1979, the victim’s body was found in a barn in Ohsaki, Kagoshima Prefecture. The victim had been missing for 3 days. The police immediately suspected that the victim’s two older brothers, A and B, murdered him. After A and B confessed to the crime, they were arrested on the 18th. B’s son was also arrested on the 25th. On the 30th, A’s former wife, Ayako Haraguchi was also arrested, based on A and B’s confessions.

Haraguchi never confessed to the crime. However, the other three all confessed. They named Haraguchi as the principal, and admitted that they killed the victim by strangling him with a towel.

In March 1980, the Kagoshima District Court decided that Haraguchi was guilty of the murder. The sentence was 10 years in prison. Haraguchi lost the appeals, and served the time.

Haraguchi got out of prison in 1990, and petitioned to retry the case in 1995. Continue reading

Life Sentence Without Parole as an Alternative to Death Penalty?

From the Japan Times:

Opinion divided on life term without parole

by Daisuke Sato (Last In A Series), Feb 21, 2013

A 44-year-old man serving a life sentence in a prison in the Chugoku region believes that continuing to live a respectable life is the only atonement he can make for the families of the two people he killed.

The inmate, who has now served 15 years, has been behaving well and prison guards often describe him as an “exemplary” prisoner.

He was initially sentenced to death by a district court. However, a high court determined that there was a possibility he could be rehabilitated and reduced the punishment to a life term. This sentence was later finalized.

“The death penalty may have been upheld” if his trials had been conducted today because sentencing has gotten tougher, the inmate said in an interview in the prison’s visiting room.

Technically, inmates serving life terms can be released on parole if they serve 10 years, demonstrate signs of reform and meet other requirements. The reality, though, is that the period such inmates are actually serving has been getting longer, recently reaching an average of about 30 years, according to data released by the Justice Ministry.

Even so, the Chugoku inmate is happy just for the opportunity to atone. Continue reading

Three Executions in Japan Today (Feb. 21, 2013)

Three executions were carried out today in Japan. These were the first executions since Shinzo Abe (Liberal Democratic Party) became the Prime Minister in December 2012.

The three men executed today were Masahiro Kanagawa (at the Tokyo Detention Center), Keiki Kano (Nagoya Detention Center), and Kaoru Kobayashi (Osaka Detention Center). Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who has the ultimate power to order execution of death row inmates, did not comment when and why these three were chosen.

One of the three men, Kobayashi, was convicted of kidnapping and killing a 7-year-old girl in 2004. After he was sentenced to death by the Nara District Court, he withdrew his appeal, saying that he did not want to live anymore. However, he filed a motion for a retrial in 2008 (the motion was rejected by the Nara District Court).  Shinichi Ishizuka, who was Kobayashi’s attorney, commented: “Kobayashi was frustrated that he could not appropriately raise the fact that he did not act with the intent to kill the victim at the trial. We were preparing to file for a retrial again. We regret the fact that he was executed before he could have his day in court” (this paragraph is from the Mainichi (in Japanese)).

Justice Minister Tanigaki told the press that if there are problems within the current system of capital punishment, they should be fixed. However, he also commented that he does not think an overall reform is needed. Tanigaki did not witness the executions today, since it is very uncommon for a Justice Minister to do so.

As of December 2012, there were 133 inmates on death row, a record-high number.

Read more about today’s news in English here (the Mainichi), and here (the Japan Times).

Numerous organizations immediately issued statements criticizing today’s executions: Japan Federation of Bar Associations,  Amnesty International, and Center for Prisoners’ Rights (all in Japanese).

Read more about the death penalty on this blog (ex. here, here, here and here).