Soul-searching as Japan ends a man’s decades on death row

Death Row Prisonersource: New York Times
published: 27 March 2014

Iwao Hakamada was a wiry former boxer in his 30s when he was thrown in jail for the killing of a family of four that shocked 1960s Japan. On Thursday, he limped from his cell on death row, a bewildered-looking 78-year-old who, his family fears, may have lost his mind in prison.

It took the courts nearly half a century to conclude that the evidence against him may have been fabricated by police investigators, and to order the retrial he sought.

The decision on Thursday to release Mr. Hakamada, thought to be the world’s longest serving death row inmate, underscored the dark side of a criminal justice system that boasts a near-100 percent conviction rate and immediately led to calls for reform.

Critics have long charged that Japanese prosecutors maintain that rate in part by relying heavily on confessions — instead of building cases based on solid evidence — sometimes wresting the admissions of guilt from innocent people too frightened or agitated to resist police pressure.

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