In 1966, Iwao Hakamada, a former featherweight boxer at one time ranked 6th nationwide, was arrested in Shizuoka for allegedly murdering a family of four. He was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. The process of appeals were exhausted in 1980, and from that point onward until last week, he languished on death row awaiting execution of his sentence.
But Hakamada retracted the confession he made during his interrogation by the police, and a support group, convinced of his innocence, fought a protracted campaign for a retrial. Finally, another 34 years after the death sentence was finalized, he walked out of Tokyo’s Kosuge detention center, bringing an end to his status as the world’s longest-serving death row prisoner. The Tokyo High Court will determine whether his case warrants a retrial. But head judge Hiroaki Murayama raised several examples of exculpatory evidence, and, observes Nikkan Gendai (March 29), even if the prosecutor’s office insists on a retrial, the court would appear likely to reverse Hakamada’s guilty verdict.
In such a case, the government would be obliged to compensate Hakamada for his 48 years of incarceration. How would this be calculated?
According to the relevant statute, the amount is determined by the number of days behind bars. “It can range from 1,000 to 12,500 yen per day, with such factors as pain and suffering and loss of income taken into consideration by the court,” says attorney Masaki Kito.
In recent court rulings, Nepalese Govinda Mainali (who was imprisoned 12 years in the so-called “Toden OL” murder case) and Toshikazu Sugaya (imprisoned 10 years for the Ashikaga Incident) were absolved; both men received awards calculated according to the maximum daily amount of 12,500 yen.
Should the same rate be applied for Hakamada, he would be entitled to 219 million yen—a figure that might seem considerable at first glance; but if the total is converted to hourly wages, it would only come to 521 yen. In comparison, that is considerably below the lowest legal minimum wage in Japan’s 47 prefectures, which is 664 yen per hour.
Hakamada, moreover, would also be entitled to file suit for additional compensation based on another law, the State Redress Act of 1947.
“For such a claim to have a chance at winning, the plaintiff would have to establish proof that, during the initial investigation that led to his conviction, the police or prosecutor were culpable, either intentionally or through lack of due diligence,” explains the aforementioned attorney Kito. “But as the crime took place 48 years ago, the police and prosecutor, which possessed all the evidence, would have the advantage.”
Courts are not always sympathetic. Take the case of Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare official Atsuko Muraki, who was finally exonerated of charges of malfeasance in 2009 after the Osaka prosecutor was found to have fabricated evidence. Her claim of 3.3 million yen in compensation was turned down, and the Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal on March 25. That ruling may have been influenced by the fact that Muraki was not only restored to her position but later boosted to the rank of vice minister—making her only the second woman to have ever held such a post.
After 48 years of hard time on death row, Hakamada suffers from possible adult-onset diabetes and dementia. No amount of money, certainly, will ever fully compensate him for the 48 years lost from his life. He was framed by the police and then judiciary stonewalled decades of efforts for a retrial. The crimes of the state, concludes Nikkan Gendai, are heavy ones indeed.