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Former death row inmate expresses concerns about ex-boxer's retrial

Masao Akahori, center, smiles at a dinner meeting with his supporters in his hometown of Shimada, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Jan. 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Yukina Furukawa)

SHIMADA, Shizuoka -- A former death row inmate who was acquitted 30 years ago in a retrial has expressed concerns about an 82-year-old former boxer and death row inmate who is seeking a retrial.

"I'm worried about him," Masao Akahori, 89, said of Iwao Hakamada who was released in 2014 after a district court decided to open a retrial of his case. A high court subsequently scrapped the decision and Hakamada is appealing to the Supreme Court.

Akahori still harbors a sense of distrust toward the judicial authority that falsely convicted him over a 1954 murder case.

The resident of the central Japan city of Nagoya complained, "Police wouldn't listen to whatever I said." He often reads books about cases in which innocent people were falsely convicted, say his supporters.

Akahori visited his hometown Shimada in the central Japan prefecture of Shizuoka on Jan. 13 to pay his respects at his family grave.

On that night, he dined with his supporters in Shimada. "I was really glad," Akahori said as he remembered his release after being acquitted by the Shizuoka District Court on Jan. 31, 1989. A smiling Akahori added that the past 30 years "passed like a flash."

Four death row inmates, including Akahori, have been acquitted since the Supreme Court released the criteria for opening retrials of convicts in 1975.

Akahori asked a Hakamada supporter who was present at the dinner meeting if Hakamada was doing well.

Since his own acquittal, Akahori has been involved in activities to support those who were convicted and are demanding that their cases be retried.

He has also appealed for the abolition of the death penalty. In a lecture meeting, he said he "felt frightened every morning about the possibility of being sent to the execution chamber."

In 2012, Akahori was selected as a candidate for a lay judge but he declined the offer saying, "I distrust the judicial system."

Akahori now lives at a nursing care facility for the aged in Nagoya. He occasionally goes out with his supporters and enjoys karaoke.

His doctor has told him that he is in good shape saying, "You can live to be 100."

Naoko Shimaya, a supporter for Akahori, expressed hope that he will remain healthy and demanded that the judicial authority prevent false convictions.

"For Mr. Akahori, the Heisei era is the 30 years after his release, when he was free. I hope he'll continue to be fine. Relevant authorities should stick to the principle of the benefit of the doubt to prevent false convictions," she said.

(Japanese original by Yukina Furukawa, Shizuoka Bureau)

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