Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Iwao Hakamada: Japan; Part Four; False confession/DNA/blood 'colour' case); Extraordinary story of Norimichi Kumamoto, the judge who, racked with guilt for the role he played as a member of the panel of judges who convicted Iwao and sentenced him to death - (Judge Kumamoto was the only one who voted to acquit Hakamada) - saw his career as a judge destroyed as he became came obsessed with saving Hakamada's life, and clearing his name. (His story is told in the 'Selfless Warrior's Blog.')

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This portrait of ex-judge Kumamoto Norimichi was the first post to appear in my Selfless Warriors Blog. The Selfless Warriors Blog, to which I now post from time to time,  is dedicated  to those exceptional  individuals who looked deeply into the eyes  of people claiming innocence rather than wrapping themselves in cocoons of  comfortable belief and were compelled by forces within themselves to fight to remedy the injustice, in spite of the havoc it might wreak in their lives. I suspect these people would not regard themselves as 'Selfless Warriors' as I regard  them. They are  inexplicably driven in their quest for justice - a role they, like ex-judge Kumamoto,  never sought.

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.



.Ex-Judge Kumamoto Norimichi: Selfless Warrior for former boxer Iwao Hakamada. (Japan): Although a dissenter, he was head of the panel of three judges who sentenced Hakamada to death in 1968, has been haunted by the decision ever since, and has been fighting to free him, at enormous personal cost.



"Who would ever believe that Norimichi Kumamoto,  who headed the three judge panel that  convicted  a professional boxer named Iwao Hakamada of murder and sentenced him to death, would become obsessed with exonerating him and saving his life  - to the extent of taking the  rare step for an ex-judge of filing a petition in the courts -  and having his own life destroyed in the process? (Sentenced to death in 1968 Hakamada is still alive - pending a decision as to whether he should be retried - thanks to the incredible efforts of his 'Selfless Warrior' ex-judge Kumamato,  and so many other supporters.) Iwao  Hakamada has the unenviable distinction of being listed by The Guinness Book of Records as the world's longest serving death row prisoner.  (An  accompanying note reads:  "Iwao Hakamada (Japan, b. 10 March 1936) had been on death row in Japan for 45 years when he was freed in March 2014, following suggestions that police investigators may have fabricated the evidence upon which he was convicted. That makes him the world’s longest serving death row prisoner. A former professional boxer, Hakamada was convicted in 1968 of having murdered a family in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1966. The conviction was based partially on blood stains, believed to be Hakamada’s, found on clothing – however, in 2008, DNA testing proved that the blood was not his. Death row prisoners in Japan can be executed at just a few hours’ notice – meaning that during his captivity, much of which was spent in solitary confinement, Hakamada would have awoken every day not knowing whether it would be his last.")


And who could imagine a person who would have a greater need for a 'Selfless Warrior' than Iwao Hakamada - on death row for the brutal murder of a family for commercial gain - as a result of a slew of confessions to the police?

However, as the Anti-death penalty Asia Network pointed out in a case study, Iwao Hakamada was a victim of inhuman  confinement, police brutality and oppressive interrogation  of the sort that could make most people confess to any crime.

"Following his arrest, police subjected Hakamada to 23 days of intensive interrogation from 18 August to 9 September 1966. He was interrogated without a break for an average of 12 hours a day; on three occasions he was interrogated for over 14 hours. He confessed after 20 days, was interrogated for another three days and then charged. During this period he signed a series of documents purportedly confessing to the crime. Hakamada later signed more confessions, this time prepared by the Public Prosecutor. 

Hakamada retracted these statements at his trial, claiming that while he was detained he had been denied food and water, was not allowed to use a toilet, and was kicked and punched. In a letter to his sister he wrote: “…one of the interrogators put my thumb onto an ink-pad, drew it to the written confession record and ordered me, ‘write your name here!’, shouting at me, kicking me and wrenching my arm.” Hakamada had had only three short interviews with different defence lawyers prior to trial. 

During his trial by the Shizuoka District Court in 1968, there were numerous inconsistencies in the evidence. Judges raised concerns that purported confessions presented by the Prosecution with Hakamada’s signature were not signed voluntarily. Of these 45 documents, only one was deemed to have been signed voluntarily and the remainder were declared to be inadmissible as evidence. 

“I could not convince the other two judges that Hakamada was not guilty so I had to convict him as the decision was made by majority. Personally the fact that I had to write his judgement was against my conscience, something I still think about to this day.” Kumamoto Norimichi, Shizuoka District Court judge, 2007."

Iwao Hakamada was convicted and sentenced to death, and the conviction and sentence were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1980.


Kumamoto's  internal struggle over ordering the death of an innocent man was beautifully captured by an anonymous reporter for the U.C.A, News, headed, "The  Japanese Judge and the Boxer he condemned to death", published on May 2. 2017 and bearing the sub-heading "After issuing sentences Norimichi Kumamoto became a prisoner of his own conscience."

"Four members of a family were killed in a murder-robbery-arson in Shizuoka City on June 30, 1966, the case study began.

 "Several months later, a former professional boxer, Iwao Hakamada, was arrested and tried," it continued. 

"Found guilty, he was given the death sentence. Due to reservations over his conviction and public pressure in the form of petitions for retrial, the sentence was never carried out. For the 46-years Hakamada was held on death row he was held in solitary confinement. While imprisoned, Hakamada was baptized as a Catholic in 1984. After nearly a half-century on death row, his execution and detention were suspended on March 27, 2014, and a retrial ordered. The court decided there was reason to think that evidence against him had been fabricated. Since his release from jail in 2014, he has lived with his elder sister. The now 81-year-old Hakamada's mind and body have deteriorated.   Hakamada is not the only one whose whole life was upended by this case. Norimichi Kumamoto, 79, a former judge of the Shizuoka District Court, has suffered pangs of conscience.  At the time of the trial, Kumamoto, who was the chief of the three-judge tribunal that heard the case, was convinced of Hakamada's innocence. However, he was not able to convince the other two judges and, as head of the panel, had to write the death sentence himself. He could not forget Hakamada's face as the sentence was handed down. Since then, the judge has never had a day when he does not remember "that day." In 2007, after a silence of 39 years, Kumamoto broke the rule that trial judges must keep their deliberations secret. He petitioned for Hakamada's retrial adding his voice to those calling for the same.  

"I could not bear my tortured conscience and so I quit my judgeship the following year [in 1969],” Kumamoto wrote in his petition. “Of course, I understand that I must keep the secrets of the tribunal. But I have been losing my physical and mental strength. I thought that it would be my last chance to bring about the retrial of Hakamada.”

In February 2017, a documentary film In the World of My Dreams describing Hakamada's life since his release was shown at a Gospel and peace gathering sponsored by the Fukuoka Diocese. Kumamoto was there in a wheelchair. The former judge suffers from the effects of a stroke, Parkinson's disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, and speech disorders. He can express himself only by saying easy words and crying. Despite that, Kumamoto shouted "Iwao!" three times towards the screen. Guilt and redemption: Kumamoto passed the judge's exam after graduating from law school and was well-known as a human rights judge. However, when he was 30-years-old, he wrote Hakamada's death sentence with tears in his eyes. So, he quit his judgeship and became a lawyer. He also lectured at a college. But Kumamoto's life began to fall apart. He drank to assuage his feelings of guilt. Eventually, he separated from his wife and children and lost his reputation and wealth. He became both mentally and physically ill. He wandered through the country looking for a place to die and tried suicide many times. He even went to a fjord in Norway, intending to kill himself there. In 1995, his license to practice law was revoked. Fortunately, Kumamoto, who was nearly homeless, was helped by Kazuko Shimauchi, an innkeeper, in 2006 in Fukuoka Prefecture. "He was absent-minded both in the house and parks and always hoped to die," said Shimauchi, who continues to help care for Kumamoto who now lives at a nursing home in Fukuoka. "He tried to throw himself into the sea. One day, he jumped into the path of a train and came home covered with blood. I guess his wish to die continued." Sachie Momma, a Catholic social activist who has supported Hakamada for years, said, "Kumamoto wanted to apologize to Hakamada and went to the Tokyo detention center many times but only family members can visit prisoners on death row. Kumamoto was baptized as a Catholic in 2014. "Kumamoto desired baptism because he wanted to approach even a little the thinking of Hakamada who was baptized in prison," Momma said. "I have never seen deep repentance like this," she added. When Hakamada's retrial was decided, Kumamoto, who saw the news on television, raised his hands in delight. Momma called Kumamoto from the front of the Shizuoka District Court on March 27, 2014, that decided Hakamada’s retrial. When she phoned, him she heard him crying until he said with a dignified voice befitting a judge, "We've only gotten started." Hakamada's retrial has yet to be held."

The entire article can be read at:

COMMENTARY: Iwao Hakamada, who has been labelled Japan's Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter,  has had wide-spread support  around the world for decades,  including a loving sister, the sadly late Carter himself, fellow  boxers and their sporting organisations,  religious groups, Amnesty International and many other individuals  and organisations who are committed to seeing him exonerated. The pressure on him must be so enormous - given the fact that he still faces the Death Penalty - even though he is currently permitted to remain out of prison. Noromichi Kumamoto played a heroic role in his quest to free Iwao Hakamada   - the man he sentenced to death - for which he has  paid a terrible price. He truly is  a 'Selfless Warrior.' "

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Selfless Warrior Blog.



The entire post can be read at:

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;


FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."

Lawyer Radha Natarajan:

Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;


FINAL, FINAL WORD: "Since its inception, the Innocence Project has pushed the criminal legal system to confront and correct the laws and policies that cause and contribute to wrongful convictions.   They never shied away from the hard cases — the ones involving eyewitness identifications, confessions, and bite marks. Instead, in the course of presenting scientific evidence of innocence, they’ve exposed the unreliability of evidence that was, for centuries, deemed untouchable." So true!

Christina Swarns: Executive Director: The Innocence Project;