JAPAN. MAN ON DEATH ROW SINCE 1972 TO GET RETRIAL IN 1961 MURDER CASE
April 6, 2005: the Nagoya High Court, Japan, decided to allow a retrial for Masaru Okunishi, who had been on the death row since 1972 when he was convicted of murdering five women in a wine poisoning case in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, in 1961, citing new evidence that could prove his innocence. The court made the decision in response to the seventh retrial application filed by the defense counsel for the 79-year-old convict.
"The court has serious doubts about the credibility of the confessions of the defendant, so that he cannot be assumed as the culprit," Presiding Judge Junichi Koide said in handing down the decision.
Koide said the new evidence submitted by the defense counsel had "sufficient evidential power" that may lead to an acquittal in a retrial. Five women, including Okunishi's wife and his lover, died after drinking poisoned wine at a party held at a community center in Nabari on March 28, 1961. The new evidence presented by the defense counsel focuses on experts' opinions on the type of pesticide put in the wine and the way the wine bottle was opened, which apparently contradicted the final court ruling. Okunishi initially confessed to putting pesticide in the wine in an attempt to terminate the love triangle. He later retracted his confession. Okunishi was initially acquitted by the Tsu District Court in 1964. The Nagoya High Court reversed the decision in 1969 and sentenced him to death, which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court in 1972. (Sources: Kyodo News, 06/04/2005)