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Retrial for world's longest-serving death row inmate

TOKYO -- A man believed to be the world's longest-serving death row inmate was Thursday granted a retrial in Japan over multiple murders in 1966, decades after doubts emerged about his guilt.

The Shizuoka District Court decided to “start the retrial over the case” of Iwao Hakamada, 78, who was convicted for the grisly murder of his boss and the man's family, a court official said.

Delivering his ruling, presiding judge Hiroaki Murayama cited possible planting of evidence by investigators to win a conviction as they sought to bring closure to a crime that shocked the country.

“There is possibility that (key pieces of) evidence have been fabricated by investigative bodies,” Murayama said in his decision, according to Jiji Press.

The judge also ordered Hakamada's release, saying continued confinement “goes against justice.”

Apart from the United States, Japan is the only major industrialized democracy to carry out capital punishment, a practice that has led to repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups.

Hakamada is the sixth person since the end of World War II to receive a retrial after having a death sentence confirmed, and his case will bolster opponents of capital punishment, including rights group Amnesty, which has just launched its annual report on the practice.

Shizuoka prosecutors told Japanese media that they are undecided on whether to appeal the decision, according to national broadcaster NHK.

Hakamada initially denied accusations that he robbed and killed his boss, the man's wife and two children before setting their house ablaze.

But the former boxer, who worked for a bean paste maker, later confessed following what he subsequently claimed was a brutal police interrogation that included beatings.

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Hideko Hakamada, center, sister of Iwao Hakamada, speaks as lead lawyer Katsuhiko Nishijima, second left, listens after the Shizuoka District Court decided to reopen a high-profile murder case in front of the court in Shizuoka, central Japan on Thursday, March 27.

(AP)

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