[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Apr 12 00:06:42 CDT 2005
Death row retrial a warning
A high court decision to retry a 79-year-old death row inmate offers a
fresh warning to police investigators who place disproportionate emphasis
on confessions, a practice that has repeatedly seen cases acquitted at
The Tuesday decision by the Nagoya High Court was in response to the
seventh application for retrial filed by defense counsel for Masaru
Okunishi, who has been imprisoned at the Nagoya Detention House.
The case dealt with the murders of 5 women at a community center in the
Kuzuo area of Nabari, Mie Prefecture, on March 28, 1961.
At a meeting of local residents, 17 women were served poisoned wine and
five, including Okunishi's wife and mistress, died. The other 12 were
hospitalized with poisoning symptoms.
Five days later, Okunishi confessed he had contaminated the wine with an
agricultural chemical in an attempt to end his love triangle. But after
his arrest, Okunishi retracted the confession and consistently protested
In handing down the decision, the high court recognized that evidence
presented by Okunishi's defense counsel was new and clear, meeting the
requirement for a retrial. The decision was based on a ruling handed down
by the Supreme Court in 1975 on an application for retrial by a man
convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison over the murder of a Sapporo
police officer in 1952.
The application was dismissed, but the Supreme Court found that all
evidence, new and old, should be comprehensively examined by the court,
rather than only individual items of evidence, opening the door to
In Okunishi's case, known as the Nabari poisoned-wine case, his confession
was supported by limited material evidence.
Defense counsel presented new evidence to the court, bringing the
spotlight back to a case that has largely been forgotten in the 44 years
since the incident.
The high court examined the evidence in the case for the 1st time in 16
The court examined evidence that showed the bottle of wine used in the
crime had been opened by a utensil, contrary to the claim in Okunishi's
initial confession that he had used his teeth to open the bottle.
The court also was presented with a report by two university professors
commissioned by Okunishi's lawyers to examine the Mie prefectural
organization's analysis of the wine.
In handing down its decision, the court said there was evidence the toxic
substance used in the murder might have been something other than the
agricultural chemical Okunishi referred to in his confession.
Having considered evidence presented by the defense counsel that the
bottle could be opened without removing the seal, the court said the
possibility that someone other than Okunishi laced the wine with poison
could not be ruled out because the time and place the wine was
contaminated could not be determined.
Yoshitomo Ode, a Kyushu University professor and expert in the Criminal
Procedure Code, welcomed Tuesday's decision.
"For a long time, death row inmates could not obtain a retrial," said Ode,
who is well versed in retrial cases. "But the possibility that someone
else laced the wine with poison was confirmed. Insufficient evidence about
the time and place of the contamination was the main reason Okunishi was
initially acquitted by the Tsu District Court in 1964."
"The retrial should be held expediently because grounds for finding him
guilty were clearly denied," Ode said.
Investigation reports showed Okunishi repeatedly retracted or changed his
A day before the arrest, Okunishi said he saw his wife poison wine with an
agricultural chemical, possibly to kill him and his mistress. But he said
later the same day that he was the culprit. "I contaminated the wine to
kill my wife," he was quoted as saying.
He said after he was arrested that, although he had planned to kill only
his wife and mistress, the plot led to the death of 5 people.
4 days later, Okunishi said he attempted to put an end to a love triangle
involving his wife and girlfriend. However, he pleaded not guilty during
Police made Okunishi speak in front of reporters at that time and it is
clear he was forced, or led, to confess by investigators. The confession
later became the decisive factor in his conviction.
The Nagoya High Court is believed to have judged his confession as lacking
The court said the confession was questionable because it included many
unnatural and unreasonable claims, ranging from his motive, preparation
for and execution of the crime and actions Okunishi took afterward.
Takeshi Tsuchimoto, a professor at Hakuo University and a former
prosecutor at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, urged caution by
those related to the judiciary.
"It's questionable why past lawsuits and applications for appeal never
revealed that there were suspicious points in the most important part in
the definitive judgement against Okunishi," Tsuchimoto said.
(source: The Yomiuri Shimbun)
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