07 March 2023 :
A Japanese high court approved on 27 February 2023 a posthumous retrial for a man convicted of robbing and murdering a 69-year-old woman in 1984 in western Japan, upholding a lower court's decision.
If the reopening of the trial is finalized and Hiromu Sakahara, who died of illness aged 75 while serving his prison term in 2011, is acquitted, it will be the first major postwar criminal case brought by the family of a convict given a life or a death sentence to be successfully overturned.
In reaching the decision, the Osaka High Court said the case warrants an "acquittal," citing "clear new evidence" presented during the second retrial plea sought by Sakahara's family.
"There is reason to doubt" the finalized ruling that convicted Sakahara, the court said.
The latest development was welcomed by Sakahara's son Koji, 61, who has been working hard to clear his father's name together with his 85-year-old mother.
"We have been able to move a step closer toward an acquittal," he said while expressing hope to see a not-guilty verdict finalized quickly as his mother, who suffered a stroke, has become feeble.
Prosecutors, who have five days to file an appeal, said the high court's judgment was deplorable. "We will examine the decision carefully before deciding how to respond," they said.
In a decision finalized by the Supreme Court in 2000, Hiromu Sakahara was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison on charges of killing Hatsu Ikemoto, a liquor store manager in Hino, Shiga Prefecture, and stealing her cash box.
Sakahara argued in the initial plea for a retrial that his original confession during the investigation was made under coercion, but the Otsu District Court dismissed it in 2006. Sakahara was appealing his sentence at the Osaka High Court when he died in 2011.
His family filed a second retrial petition in 2012 with the district court.
The district court ordered a retrial in 2018 for Sakahara, questioning the credibility of his confession and noting its arbitrariness. Prosecutors immediately appealed the ruling.
The Osaka High Court questioned the Supreme Court's acceptance, as fact, that Sakahara knew precisely where to find the victim's body at the crime scene without being told, as well as the credibility of the photo negatives of Sakahara taken as he described the scene as part of an on-site investigation.
"There is room for doubt as to whether (the investigation) was conducted voluntarily, including the possibility that (Sakahara) may have been led by the investigators," the court said.
The high court additionally took issue with the Supreme Court's determination that Sakahara's alibi of drinking and sleeping at an acquaintance's house on the day of the incident was not true.
The Otsu District Court had said it suspects Sakahara's confession was made under duress after being beaten by police officers, one of whom threatened harm to the family his daughter married into.
The family's defense team had argued it was impossible to murder the woman in the way Sakahara was said to have described, backed by lab results by a forensic doctor that they submitted.