April 7, 2010

JAPAN: Retrial eyed for man on death row since 1972

. TOKYO, Japan / The Japan Times / National News / Kyodo News / April 7, 2010 The Supreme Court has revived the possibility of a retrial for an 84-year-old man on death row convicted of killing five women and injuring 12 others with poisoned wine in Mie Prefecture in 1961, court officials said Tuesday. The top court's Third Petty Bench on Monday ordered the Nagoya High Court to review its decision in 2006 not to reopen the trial of Masaru Okunishi, who has been on death row since 1972. After hearing that the five-justice panel had sent his case back to the appellate court for reconsideration, Okunishi said he hopes "a retrial will be held as soon as possible to overturn my wrongful conviction," according to lawyers who visited him at the Nagoya Detention House. Masaru Okunishi during his 1961 trial. Courtesy: aujourdhuilejapon.com Justice Yukio Horigome, the presiding judge in the case, said further deliberations should take place, noting that the Nagoya High Court failed to fully look into the case from a scientific point of view and needs to re-evaluate the results of tests on the wine used in the crime. It was the first decision by the Supreme Court in 34 years to revoke a lower court ruling involving a retrial application by a death-row inmate. In 1976, the Supreme Court revoked a district court decision in a 1950 murder case, paving the way for the person convicted to be acquitted and freed. The 1961 case involves the poisoning of 17 women in March 1961 at a community meeting in Nabari, Mie Prefecture. Five of the women, including Okunishi's wife, died and 12 fell sick. Okunishi was arrested in April that year. He allegedly confessed to the police that he had laced the wine with an agricultural chemical. He retracted his confession shortly before he was indicted. In 1964, the Tsu District Court acquitted Okunishi, who had pleaded innocent, citing a lack of evidence. But the Nagoya High Court overturned the district court decision and sentenced him to death in 1969, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1972. Okunishi has since applied seven times for a retrial. The first six were rejected. On Okunishi's seventh attempt, the Nagoya High Court decided in April 2005 to reopen the trial, citing new evidence that could prove his innocence. It also issued an order to suspend his execution. But prosecutors filed an objection with the high court. In December 2006, a separate three-judge panel at the Nagoya court repealed the previous decision. Okunishi's defense team argued that the type of pesticide he allegedly confessed to using could not not have played a part in the murders because its characteristic component was not detected in the wine. The Nagoya High Court rejected that argument. [rc] (C) The Japan Times Ltd