Letters to the Editor,
The Daily Yomiuri,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0055
In the April 6th article "Retrial for death row man, aged 79" Judge Junishi Koide of the Nagoya High Court is quoted as saying that the confession of Masaru Okunishi to a 1961 multiple murder is no longer credible, and that the man who has spent decades on death row "can't be assumed to be the culprit."
I feel shocked, but I know I should not be. The judge's statement is an admission that Okunishi's guilt was assumed - likely from the very start of the case - more than it was demonstrated with evidence, and it points once again to the place and credibility afforded mere appearance in Japanese culture. But intelligent people - and magistrates especially - ought to know full well the unreliability of crediting assumptions with undemonstrated meaning.
Ignoring the fact that people, including crime suspects, can say anything they want regardless of its veracity, Japanese jurisprudence is famous for extracting and relying on confessions more than evidence for the resolution of crimes. The Japanese constitution was written in English during the post war years by the American occupiers and then translated into Japanese before it was voted on and passed by the National Diet, and I know for a fact that the presumption of innocence - a premier American democratic principle - is a guaranteed Japanese constitutional right.
Mr. Okunishi's case is not the first of its kind in this country. His case has come to this - three decades of suffering - because of institutionalized stupidity, and whenever I read of sentence reversals or acquittals like this I feel that the Japanese judiciary ought to feel mortifying shame.
Published on Monday, April 11, 2005 as “Okunishi case shameful for Japan’s judiciary.”