Sakae Menda, the first person in Japan to be released after 34 years on death row, died on Saturday December 5 at the age of 95. Mr. Menda died of natural causes at a retirement home in Fukuoka County, southwestern Japan.
Born in 1925, Mr. Menda was sentenced to death in 1950 for the knife and ax murder of a Buddhist priest and his wife, and for seriously injuring the couple’s two daughters. The drama took place in December 1948 in Hitoyoshi, in his native department of Kumamoto (south-west).
Arrested shortly after for the theft of rice, Mr. Menda, a small illiterate peasant, undergoes three weeks in police custody without the possibility of having the assistance of a lawyer. He ends up confessing. He later explained that his confession had been forcibly obtained and that he had been beaten. “It wasn’t a confession. The police wrote a statement and said I must have acted in such a way ”, He said again in 2018. The investigators would have forced him to sign this statement by saying: “If you sign it, you will be released soon. “
During his trial, the fact that he proclaims himself innocent and the presentation of an alibi are swept away by the prosecution. “When I gave my alibi, the prosecutor told me: “Do not lie. The more you lie, the heavier the crime. Tell the truth and do penance for your crime. You will go to hell as long as you lie.” “
“Feudal attitude of Japan towards justice and democracy”
Detained in the death row, he lives like the others, in absolute isolation, in a 5 m cell.2, unheated and lit night and day, pending its eventual execution. “Every time the guards came to pick up a convict, I trembled. I collapsed when I found it wasn’t my turn. I still cry when I remember those moments ”, he explained.
From his prison, he fights to have his innocence recognized. He learns to write and connects requests for reconsideration of his case. The sixth is the right one. His case was deemed admissible in September 1979 on the grounds that his confession did not constitute reliable evidence. He was found not guilty in July 1983. A total of eighty judges considered his case.
Freed, he then devoted his life to helping people wishing to be retried and to campaigning, in Japan and abroad, against the death penalty and “The feudal attitude of Japan towards justice and democracy”. The Archipelago is one of the few developed countries to maintain the death penalty. One hundred and ten convicts are today on death row, including seven women. Nobuo Oda has been awaiting his execution there for fifty-four years. The last hanged prisoner is Wei Wei, a Chinese national executed in December 2019. “There are still judicial errors”, regretted Mr. Menda, author in 2004 of Gokuchu Noto (“Prison Notes”, Impact Shuppankai, untranslated).
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