TOKYO, April 29–(Kyodo)– A 100-year-old psychiatrist will lead the struggle to clear the name of Sadamichi Hirasawa, who spent decades on death row after being convicted of mass murder in a 1948 bank robbery known as the Teigin Incident.
“I believe Mr. Hirasawa is innocent, and it is deplorable that people have almost forgotten he was detained for more than 30 years with continual fear of execution,” Haruo Akimoto said. “It is a terrible human rights violation by Japan’s judicial system.”
Hirasawa was arrested in August 1948 on suspicion of involvement in the fatal poisoning on Jan. 26 of that year of 12 people at a Teikoku Ginko bank branch in Tokyo. The poison was believed served to the victims by a man identifying himself as a public health official.
Hirasawa confessed to the slayings but later retracted his admission, claiming investigators forced him to make the statement. The Supreme Court upheld his death sentence based only on his initial confession.
Akimoto, a former professor at the University of Tokyo, will head a group campaigning for a retrial of Hirasawa’s case on May 10, the 19th anniversary of his death from natural causes in a prison hospital at age 95.
After examining written expert opinions on Hirasawa’s mental condition, in which psychiatrists said he had a tendency for delusions and was a habitual liar, Akimoto came to conclude he was innocent.
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Akimoto said the psychiatrists had concluded these traits had multiplied at the time Hirasawa confessed due to his long detention.
“They should have concluded his mental condition was not usual and his confession was unreliable, because his tendency (to lie) intensified at that time,” Akimoto said.
“I expect more and more people think that an innocent man was falsely charged and ended up dying in prison, because 33 different justice ministers refused to sign the execution order before his natural death,” he said.
Such judicial negligence and lack of concern for human rights continues today, Akimoto said.
His concern about the judicial system has grown since the Tokyo High Court rejected an appeal by Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, who faces the gallows for masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes.
The high court concluded in March that Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is mentally competent, rejecting the conclusion of examinations by six prominent psychiatrists, including Akimoto, that the guru is not competent.
Akimoto interviewed Asahara in February at the Tokyo Detention House and concluded the cult leader, who did not respond during the exam, is a “living corpse.”
“I do not mean to defend Asahara, but to advocate the truth that he is mentally incompetent,” he said. “The other five doctors reached the same conclusion, but the court adopted a false exam result by a court-appointed psychiatrist and ignored ours. This may damage public trust in psychiatric exams.
“A court cannot fulfill its duty — protection of human rights — if it ignores the truth,” he said.
Hirasawa was another victim of injustice, Akimoto said.
“While I have had many experiences during my 100 years, my encounters with the Teigin Incident and Asahara are among the unforgettable ones,” he said.
Takehiko Hirasawa, 47, Hirasawa’s adopted son, said, “Dr. Akimoto has worked earnestly to prove the innocence of my deceased father, and I expect him to lead our support group so the memory of the Teigin Incident will not fade away.”
The son was adopted by the Hirasawa family when he was 22 in order to support the retrial campaign that was headed by his real father, Tetsuro Morikawa, a well-known writer.
The campaigners filed the 19th petition for a retrial with the Tokyo High Court on May 10, 1989, the second anniversary of Hirasawa’s death, and submitted what they claim was new evidence to prove his innocence.
The items include a memorandum by an investigator that indicates the investigation team believed someone from a secret unit within the old Imperial Japanese Army must have been involved in the murder due to the rareness of the poison used.
The high court has been examining the documents submitted by the campaigners and lawyers since 2004.
“It is insufficient if we focus only on persuading the court to reopen the case. We need to raise public awareness about the Teigin Incident to realize a retrial a half a century after the initial trial ended,” Akimoto said.