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Sentenced To Death 46 Years Ago, Japanese Man Is Now Free

A Japanese man who may have been on death row longer than anyone else in the world walked out of prison on Thursday after newly analyzed DNA evidence prompted a judge to order that he be retried.

Iwao Hakamada, now 78, was sentenced to death in 1968. The part-time boxer had been arrested a year earlier for a crime that shocked Japan — the 1966 murders of a family of four. Hakamada had allegedly robbed the owner of a miso manufacturing company where he worked, then killed that man, the man's wife and their two children. The family's home was burned in what may have been an attempt to cover up the crime.

According to Reuters:

"Though he briefly admitted to the killing, [Hakamada] retracted this and pleaded innocent during his trial, but was sentenced to death. ... The sentence was upheld by the Japanese Supreme Court in 1980 and Hakamada is believed to be the world's longest-serving death row inmate."

Now, The Wall Street Journal writes, "in a highly unusual reversal, a district court in Shizuoka prefecture ordered Mr. Hakamada be released and retried." Recent DNA tests of blood-stained clothes allegedly found in 1967 at a factory owned by the murdered family "pointed to fabrication of the evidence by investigators," the Journal says.

Agence France-Presse explains that:

"Prosecutors and courts had used [the] blood-stained clothes, which emerged a year after the crime and his arrest, as key evidence to convict Hakamada.

"The clothes did not fit him, his supporters said. The blood stains appeared too vivid for evidence that was discovered a year after the crime. Later DNA tests found no link between Hakamada, the clothes and the blood stains, his supporters said."

Reuters adds that Hakamada's sister Hideko says her brother is showing signs of dementia. She told AFP last year that "if you put someone in jail for 47 years, it's too much to expect them to stay sane."

According to The Innocence Project, a clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, DNA evidence has led to 314 post-conviction exonerations in the U.S., including 18 of individuals who had been sentenced to death.

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