The initial hearing for the retrial of a man whose death sentence was finalized for a 1966 quadruple murder in central Japan will be held on Oct. 27, his defense team said Wednesday.
The date was decided at the sixth meeting between the court, prosecutors and the defense team for Iwao Hakamata, 87, who spent nearly half a century behind bars before new evidence led to his release in 2014.
During the meeting at the Shizuoka District Court, prosecutors indicated their intention to request the examination of five new witnesses, including forensic experts, during the retrial. Mitsuhiro Hazama, a defense team lawyer, expressed "strong doubts" over the necessity of such a move.
The three parties largely agreed to schedule five dates, including the initial hearing, within the year to examine evidence investigated in the final trial and retrial request proceedings, with witnesses to be questioned early next year.
The defense team has requested that Hakamata, whose mental state has reportedly deteriorated, be exempted from appearing in court. If the request is granted, Hakamata's older sister, Hideko, 90, will attend the arraignment at the start of the retrial in his stead.
Hideko expressed relief after Wednesday's meeting, saying, "I believe the retrial will find (my brother) absolutely innocent."
In March, the Tokyo High Court, which was ordered by the Supreme Court in 2020 to re-examine its 2018 decision not to reopen the case, reversed course and ordered the retrial, citing the unreliability of the main evidence used.
The decision became final after prosecutors decided they would not appeal the high court order. In July, however, they indicated they would argue for the conviction of Hakamata in his retrial by submitting new evidence, including a joint expert assessment of bloodstains on five pieces of clothing allegedly worn by the defendant during the incident.
Hakamata was a live-in employee at a miso maker when he was arrested for allegedly killing the firm's senior managing director, his wife and two of their children. They were found stabbed to death at their home in Shizuoka Prefecture, which had been burned down.
The former professional boxer confessed to the killings during intense interrogation but pleaded not guilty at trial. His death sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.