TOKYO - A man believed to be the world's longest-serving death row inmate was granted a retrial Thursday after decades in solitary confinement, in a rare about-face for Japan's rigid justice system.
Shizuoka District Court in central Japan ordered a fresh trial for Iwao Hakamada, 78, over the grisly 1966 murder of his boss and the man's family.
Presiding judge Hiroaki Murayama said he was concerned that investigators could have planted evidence to win a conviction as they sought to bring closure to a crime that had shocked the country.
"There is possibility that (key pieces of) evidence have been fabricated by investigative bodies," Murayama said in his ruling, according to Jiji Press.
Shizuoka prosecutors, who have three days to appeal the decision, told Japanese media that the court's decision was "unexpected".
Apart from the United States, Japan is the only major industrialised 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.
Of the past five former death-row inmates who received retrials in Japan, four were subsequently cleared. Higher courts threw out a retrial motion for the fifth prisoner, although his lawyers have appealed.
Hakamada initially denied accusations that he robbed and killed his boss, the man's wife and their 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.
He retracted his confession, but to no avail, and the supreme court confirmed his death sentence in 1980.