TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A Tokyo court decided Monday to grant a retrial to a former professional boxer who was sentenced to death over a 1966 quadruple murder case in Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan, and who spent nearly half a century behind bars before new evidence led to his release.
The Tokyo High Court decision on the retrial of Iwao Hakamata, 87, came after the Supreme Court sent the case back to the court in 2020, ordering it to reconsider an earlier decision not to reopen it.
The court said it "cannot possibly identify Mr. Hakamata as the culprit," citing unreliability of the main evidence -- five pieces of clothing he was believed to have worn during the incident -- that was used in finalizing his death sentence.
The court also upheld an earlier decision that Hakamata should not be returned to prison considering the likelihood that he will be found not guilty.
Hakamata's elder sister Hideko, 90, told reporters in front of the Tokyo High Court, "We've been waiting for this day. It's finally here."
The main focal point of the case was whether the color of blood on clothing, found in a soybean tank, could preserve its redness over a year later. "We can reasonably presume the reddish color of bloodstains on clothing would disappear after being inside a soybean tank for over a year," the court, supporting the defense's claims.
Hakamata had always insisted on his innocence but his sentence was finalized in 1980. He was freed in 2014 after the Shizuoka District Court decided to suspend his death sentence and reopen the case, accepting DNA test results that indicated blood found on items was not Hakamata's.
The former boxer was a live-in employee at a miso soybean paste maker when he was arrested in 1966 for allegedly killing the firm's senior managing director, his wife and their two children. They were found dead from stab wounds at their house in Shizuoka, which had been burned down.
Indicted for murder, robbery and arson, his death sentence was finalized based on a ruling that blood marks on five clothing items found in a miso tank 14 months after the murder matched the blood types of the victims and Hakamata.
But in 2018, the Tokyo High Court scrapped the Shizuoka court's decision to suspend his death sentence and reopen the case, questioning the lower court's reliance on the DNA tests.
The Supreme Court upheld the high court decision over the credibility of the DNA tests, but concluded it should re-examine the case because questions had not been resolved over the color of alleged bloodstains left on the clothing items.
In the trial, Hakamata's defense team argued the evidence was forged, submitting an expert analysis stating that bloodstains turn black when immersed in miso after a few months and that no reddish color would be left after a year or more.
The prosecution also conducted an experiment and claimed it could observe redness even after about one year and two months had passed, demanding that the request for a retrial be dismissed and the defendant be taken back into custody.
After his arrest, Hakamata had initially confessed to investigators but pleaded not guilty at his trial.