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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007

Ex-judge continues push to free death-row inmate he helped convict in '68

Staff writer

About four decades ago, when Norimichi Kumamoto was a Shizuoka District Court judge, he thought that Iwao Hakamada, under indictment for killing a family of four in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1966, was innocent.

News photo
Former judge Norimichi Kumamoto speaks about the Iwao Hakamada case at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Tuesday. KAZUAKI NAGATA PHOTO

Kumamoto did not find the case presented by prosecutors very convincing, but he eventually agreed to go along with the two other judges in 1968 and sentence Hakamada, a former professional boxer, to death.

This year, Kumamoto began speaking out on the case publicly in the hope of freeing Hakamada, who has been on death row for the last 40 years.

Speaking Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, the former judge criticized the police interrogation methods. Hakamada was questioned by two officers an average of 12 hours a day for 20 straight days, without any lawyers present.

"The thing that I felt instinctively when the deliberations began was that there was something wrong. . . . It took 20 days for police to extract the confession from Mr. Hakamada," Kumamoto said.

Hideyo Ogawa, one of Hakamada's lawyers, said one problem in the legal system is that prosecutors rely so heavily on a confession, made during closed-door interrogations without the presence of legal counsel, to demonstrate guilt.

There is no time limit on daily interrogations, and they are not recorded, Ogawa said.

"Over the past 40 years, these methods have basically not changed," he said. "Mr. Hakamada is a victim (of the system)."

Kumamoto said he is aware that speaking out may result in a great deal of criticism.

"But I'd like to say that this is something that I have worried about and debated about for many years," he said. "Even before the decision (on the case) was finally given."

Hakamada's death sentence was finalized by the Tokyo High Court in 1980, but his defense team has requested a retrial. The Shizuoka District Court dismissed the request in 1994, as did the Tokyo High Court in 2004. The defense team appealed to the Supreme Court in September 2004.

They plan to submit a final opinion to the Supreme Court in December and hope to get a decision early next year.

Hakamada, 71, is being held at the Tokyo Detention Center.

Toshiki Yamasaki, director general of Hakamada's support group in Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, has visited him a number of times this year.

Hakamada talked about general issues and boxing, and avoided touching on his case, Yamasaki said.

He said the group will continue to put pressure on the Supreme Court to reopen the case by gathering public support for a retrial.

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