Released after 45 solitary years on death row

Mar 27th, 2014 | By | Category: Courts, Death Penalty, Injustice, Paco's Podium, Spotlight

Under Roman Law, a confession was invalid unless the subject was sufficiently tortured.  The Japanese system isn't much different.

Under Roman Law, a criminal’s confession was invalid unless the subject was sufficiently tortured. The Japanese system isn’t much different.

Paco was under the impression California was the worst in terms of lengthy death row stays but the case of Japanese Inmate Hakamada Iwao makes us look like Texas by comparison.

Some 46 years ago, Iwao’s boss, the man’s wife and their two children were brutally murdered. And, after a scant 20 days of “intense interrogation”, including what was then deemed an acceptable amount of beating, police obtained a confession.

According to The Economist,

“Criminal courts in Japan have long relied heavily on confessions for proof of guilt. Though the accused have a right to silence, failure to admit a crime is considered bad sport. Besides, police have strong incentives to extract a confession and, with up to 23 days to interrogate a suspect, the blunt tools to do so, as a stream of disturbing incidents has shown. Detectives tracking down an anonymous hacker extracted separate confessions from four innocent people before being forced in December into a humiliating apology. Court conviction rates are over 99%.” (The Economist 2/23/2013)

At trial, Iwao recanted, explaining he only confessed after being beaten and threatened. Of course, the problem with recanting is it begs the question, if you say you were lying then, how do I know your are being truthful now?

That’s how the 3 judge panel saw it–Hakamada Iwao was convicted and sentenced to die. He has been in actual solitary confinement (not SHU) for nearly 46 years.

Not long after conviction, one of the judges publicly stated the conviction was in error, however, the other 2 couldn’t be swayed.

Last week a District Court ordered a retrial, with the inmate released pending a prosecutorial appeal, if any.

After 46 years of Japanese-style solitary confinement, Iwao’s mental health is in question. If he managed to survive the ordeal with his sanity, here’s hoping he writes a book…as long as it isn’t a chronological journal. –

Reference: Amnesty International…

The Japanese courts have at last seen sense and granted a retrial to a prisoner who has spent more than four decades on death row, said Amnesty International. The organization is now urging prosecutors to accept the court’s decision.

Hakamada Iwao, 78, was sentenced to death in 1968 and is believed to be the longest-serving death row inmate in the world. After an unfair trial, he was convicted of the murder of his boss, his boss’s wife and their two children.

Shizuoka District Court granted his latest request for a retrial at a hearing earlier today. Prosecutors have four days to appeal the court’s decision.

“It would be most callous and unfair of prosecutors to appeal the court’s decision. Time is running out for Hakamada to receive the fair trial he was denied more than four decades ago,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

“If ever there was a case that merits a retrial, this is it.  Hakamada was convicted on the basis of a forced confession and there remain unanswered questions over recent DNA evidence.”

Hakamada “confessed” after 20 days of interrogation by police. He retracted the confession during the trial and told the court that police had beaten and threatened him.

According to his lawyers, recent forensic tests show no match between Hakamada’s DNA and samples taken from clothing the prosecution alleges was worn by the murderer.

One of the three judges who convicted Hakamada has publicly stated he believes him to be innocent.

“The Japanese authorities should be ashamed of the barbaric treatment Hakamada has received. For more than 45 years he has lived under the constant fear of execution, never knowing from one day to the next if he is going to be put to death. This adds psychological torture to an already cruel and inhumane punishment,” added Roseann Rife.

Like most prisoners facing execution, Hakamada has mainly been held in solitary confinement. His mental health has deteriorated as a result of the decades he has spent in isolation


Amnesty International has called on the Japanese government to introduce a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty.

The Japanese justice system continues to rely heavily on confessions often obtained through torture or other ill-treatment. There are no clear limits on the length of interrogations which lawyers are not permitted to attend.

Amnesty International has documented the routine use of beatings, intimidation, sleep deprivation and forcing detainees to stand or sit in a fixed position for long periods during interrogations.

The organization has repeatedly called for reforms of Japan’s justice system in line with international standards.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

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3 Comments to “Released after 45 solitary years on death row”

  1. Howie Katz says:

    It seems fairly certain that Hakamada Iwao got shortchanged big time by the Japanese criminal justice system. But make no mistake about it, those crocodile tears shed by Amnesty International are not for the wronged Iwao. AI really does not give a hoot about Iwao. AI is using the poor soul in order to further their longtime campaign to abolish the death penalty.

    No matter how many people a cold blooded murderer might have killed, or how heinous or cruel the crime, AI “opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime ….. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

    As a strong supporter of the death penalty, I certainly do not approve the way the Japanese handled the Iwao murder investigation, prosecution and conviction. But the death penalty brings a measure of justice to the survivors of those victims who were subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by their murderers. And despite denials by the opponents of capital punishment, the death penalty does deter premeditated murders.

    • pacovilla says:

      I agree, Howie. I do not endorse AI, however, their content is open for republishing provided it is appropriately credited AND, in this case, it is the most comprehensive.

  2. Bob Walsh says:

    The Japanese have a very different view of due process than we do. Also, if I remember correctly, they have a conviction rate of about 97% or so.