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Ex-death row inmate enjoys daily strolls but signs of lengthy detention's impact remain

Iwao Hakamada is seen walking near his home in the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Hamamatsu, on Feb. 28, 2019. (Mainichi/Yukina Furukawa)

HAMAMATSU, Shizuoka -- March 27 will mark the fifth anniversary of the release of a former death row inmate convicted of killing four members of a family in 1966. Iwao Hakamada, 83, had his death sentence confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1980 but was released in 2014 as the Shizuoka District Court decided to open a retrial of his case.

The district court ordered a stay of execution based on new evidence including DNA test results from blood-stained clothes, which are said to have been worn by Hakamada at the time of the murder. However, the Tokyo High Court scrapped the decision last June, making it difficult to open a retrial. The man's special appeal for a retrial is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Iwao Hakamada, right, is seen at his home with his older sister Hideko, left, in the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Hamamatsu, on March 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Yukina Furukawa)

Hakamada now lives with his 86-year-old sister Hideko at their home in Hamamatsu and his daily routine to walk around the streets in this central Japan city is now a familiar sight.

A party organized by his supporters was held in early March this year to celebrate the man and his sister's birthdays -- in March and February, respectively. But Hakamada left in the middle of the party for his daily walk and only returned home after it had ended.

The 83-year-old refers to his daily stroll in the city as his "work." He walks the same route in silence several hours each day and mutters sometimes as if he were in thought. Hideko thinks this is caused by mental illness that Hakamada developed during his prolonged detention. "By living together, I realized the length of half a century," she said in regards to the time he was confined.

Immediately after his release, Hakamada said to his supporters, "Hideko is the only person who believed in my innocence for 48 years." However, the impact of his prolonged detention is apparent, for example, he still becomes mentally unstable in the morning, when executions are said to often take place.

Meanwhile, Hideko feels Hakamada had also changed in a good way during the five years after his release, such as becoming more considerate of others.

Prosecutors submitted a written statement urging the Supreme Court to take Hakamada into custody again following the Tokyo High Court decision not to detain him again for reasons including his health condition. Defense team lawyer Etsuyoshi Izuta pointed out, "In his current condition, detaining him again is crueler than an execution." To prevent Hakamada from being put into the detention center again, his defense team applied on March 20 for amnesty.

"I was disappointed by the high court's decision (to overturn a lower court decision to open a retrial), but I want to value the time that I can be with him (Hakamada) instead of worrying about the future," said Hideko. She added, "If fighting for 50 years is not enough, then we will have to fight for 100 years to win."

(Japanese original by Yukina Furukawa, Shizuoka Bureau)

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