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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Iwao Hakamada, convicted of a quadruple murder in 1966, files appeal with Japan’s top court to seek retrial

Iwao Hakamada
A man convicted in a 1966 quadruple murder case filed an appeal Monday with the Supreme Court to seek a retrial, his lawyers said, even though he was freed in 2014 after spending nearly half a century on death row.

Former professional boxer Iwao Hakamada, 82, has been struggling to clear his name over the murder in Shizuoka Prefecture, to which he had initially confessed, but the Tokyo High Court on June 11 scrapped a decision by the Shizuoka District Court to grant him a retrial.

Court judgments have been divided over the credibility of DNA tests on five items of clothing said to have been worn by the murderer. The district court concluded that the items were unlikely to be Hakamada’s based on an expert analysis provided by his defense team, whereas the high court said that analysis was unreliable.

Hakamada was freed by the district court in March 2014 after nearly 48 years in prison. In addition to ordering the reopening of the case, the court suspended his death sentence as well as his continued detention.

Hakamada, who now lives in Shizuoka Prefecture with his older sister, has not been placed back in detention so far, with the high court saying that given his age and health, he is unlikely to flee.

The former boxer continues to be haunted by a fear of death and is suffering from delusions, apparently as a result of his long detention, according to people close to the matter.

Hakamada was a live-in employee at a soybean processing firm when he was arrested in August 1966 for the murder of the firm’s senior managing director, his wife and two children. They were found dead from stab wounds at their burned house in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Hakamada initially confessed to investigators before changing his plea at trial. But the district court found Hakamada guilty and sentenced him to death in 1968, with the decision finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

As Hakamada and his family sought retrials, a new development came in 2014 when the district court accepted DNA test results undermining the prosecution’s claim that Hakamada’s blood had been detected on five items of clothing found in a soybean tank in the processing plant. The court even noted that the evidence could have been fabricated by police.

Prosecutors appealed against that decision to the Tokyo High Court, casting doubt on the reliability of the DNA tests, and the high court pointed to “serious doubt” regarding the methodology of the DNA tests.

Source: Japan Times, June 19, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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