The Sayama Incident (狭山事件 Sayama Jiken?) is a murder case named after the Japanese city of Sayama, Saitama, where it took place. The incident, in which a man was imprisoned for 31 years, highlighted official discrimination against Japan's burakumin caste.
On May 1, 1963, 16-year-old Yoshie Nakata (中田 善枝 Nakata Yoshie?, born May 1, 1947) went missing on her way home from school. Later that night, a ransom note was delivered to her house. The note asked to bring ¥200,000 (approximately US$556 at the time) to a place close to her house at 12:00 am on May 2. Her sister, who later committed suicide, brought fake money to the designated place, with many policemen surrounding the site. Although a man came to her and exchanged words, he became suspicious and escaped into the night before the police could catch him.
In the morning on May 4, the dead body of the victim was found buried in an alley on a farm. Police determined that she was raped, then murdered. The media criticized the police for failing to catch the possible suspect, the same mistake made during the kidnapping case of Yoshinobu Murakoshi, which had occurred only one month earlier. On May 6, the day before his wedding, a man from the same neighborhood committed suicide. He had the same blood type as the suspect, but he suffered from erectile dysfunction, so the police thought he could not be the rapist.
Arrest and trial
There was the Ishida Pig Farm (石田養豚場 Ishida Yōtonjō?) near the house of the victim. The owner's family and most of the employees of Ishida Pig Farm were Burakumin. Even in the Buraku, these employees were regarded as dangerous for their theft and violence. So the police investigated the people of Ishida Pig Farm, and arrested 24-year-old Kazuo Ishikawa (石川 一雄 Ishikawa Kazuo?, born on January 14, 1939) on an unrelated charge. Although at first he denied the charge, from June 20 he capitulated to the pressure and began confessing that he had kidnapped and killed her.
He and his supporters insist that the police forced him to make a false confession by isolating and threatening him for almost a month. They also insist that he could not read or write, but his ex-employer, who is a Burakumin also, testified that Ishikawa could read the weekly magazines and the newspapers and the books on traffic rules and automotive structure. Ishikawa and his supporters also insist that he did not have the slightest knowledge of what a lawyer was, and that the police exploited that and made him seem suspicious by giving him false information about his lawyer. Ishikawa claimed that the police arranged a plea bargain that he would be freed within ten years if he confessed to the murder, but in the court, the police denied doing that.
Ishikawa was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, and so at the appeal trial, he began to claim his innocence and rejected any criminal liability. Finally he was sentenced to life imprisonment instead. In 1969, the Buraku Liberation League took up his case but mostly just to criticize his lawyer as a supporter of the Japanese Communist Party. The Communist Party in turn criticized the Buraku Liberation League. In 1975, he dismissed his lawyer, who cited Ishikawa's anti-Communist sympathies in his letter of resignation. The battle between the two groups continued into 1976. Ishikawa's brother is the chief of the Sayama, Saitama branch of the Buraku Liberation League.
Ishikawa was paroled and released from prison in 1994. Along with his supporters, he is still seeking a fair retrial and the chance to clear his name. "I want the label of murderer, which is bearing so heavily on me, removed", Ishikawa said in 2002.
Grounds of conviction
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- The 土 of 時 in the ransom note was written as a running style of 主 mistakenly. There was the same error in Ishikawa's letter to the police chief.
- Ishikawa and the author of the ransom note share peculiar ways of writing, like these:
- Where one should write つ in hiragana, they write ツ in katakana.
- They mix Chinese numerals and Arabic numerals on the date of letters.
- They mix わ and は to write は, one of Japanese particles.
- Where you should write で in hiragana, they write 出 in kanji.
- Ishikawa said a three-wheeled car had passed him on Kamakura Kaidō, when he was delivering the ransom note to the victim's house. After his confession, the police found the three-wheeler driver who had passed Kamakura Kaidō around the same time.
- Ishikawa said he had asked "Where is the house of Mr. Eisaku Nakata?" to a farmer who lived nearby, when he was delivering the ransom note to the victim's house. Eisaku was the father of the victim. So the police put Ishikawa in a lineup, the farmer testified that the man who asked the place was Ishikawa for sure.
- Ishikawa said he saw a car parked near the victim's house, when he was delivering the ransom note to the victim's house. The police found that a fertilizer merchant had parked a compact van there around the same time.
- The dead body of the victim was bound with a towel and a hand towel. The former was privately distributed by Tsukishima Foods Industry Co., Ltd. The latter was distributed by Isoko Beikokuten, a rice store. Ishikawa was one of the few people who could get both of them.
- When the attempted transfer of the ransom, the older sister of the victim and the ex-military policeman heard the voice of the kidnapper. Both of them testified that that was Ishikawa's voice.
- At first, Ishikawa insisted that he was working with his older brother near his home all day long. Later on, the police found that his alibi was a lie.
Evidence in favor of Ishikawa's innocence
A large body of evidence indicates that Ishikawa is innocent and that the ‘confession’ upon which the courts’ decisions are based is false.
First and foremost, Ishikawa could not have written the ransom note that was delivered to the victim’s family. Like other Buraku people of his generation, he came from an impoverished background and, as a result, he was not well educated. At the time of his arrest, he was 24 years old, lacked even an elementary school education, and was illiterate. The ransom note that was delivered to the victim’s house, however, contained many Chinese characters and was written by a person accustomed to writing. The courts maintain that Ishikawa could have copied the Chinese characters out of a magazine, but analysts have testified that the handwriting is clearly that of a different person. There is also no evidence of Ishikawa’s fingerprints on the ransom note or on the envelope it was in.
In addition to Ishikawa’s forced confession, the court has based much of its decision on the fact that the victim’s pen was found at Ishikawa’s house. However, this fountain pen was not discovered until the third search of his residence. On May 23, the day Ishikawa was arrested, the police came to his house, woke him up and took him to jail. Twelve detectives conducted a full, two-hour search of the premises. They took several objects from as potential evidence, but did not find the victim’s pen. On June 18, a second search of the premises was conducted. Fourteen detectives participated, specifically looking for the victim’s bag, watch, and pen. They searched the entire premises for over two hours but found nothing.
Eight days later, following these two extensive searches by a total of 26 trained detectives, the pen was found on the doorframe in Ishikawa’s kitchen. Both court decisions, that of the Tokyo High Court and the Supreme Court, state that the first 26 detectives had simply overlooked the doorframe, but their reasons for why this happened differ. The Tokyo High Court said that it was because the location was too obvious, while the Supreme Court maintained that short people would have difficulty seeing the top of the doorframe. The doorframe is approximately 1.83 meters (6 feet) tall; there is a picture of the kitchen taken immediately following the second search that shows a small stepladder in front of the door.
A veteran police detective has testified that it is unthinkable that trained police investigators would have overlooked a bright pink pen on a relatively low doorframe, and even more unthinkable that such a thing could happen twice. The investigators called to search Ishikawa’s house were the top professionals from the area. By the time Ishikawa was arrested, the case had already become a scandal, and the police were doing whatever it took to find the culprit. They spared no cost or personnel in conducting as thorough a search as possible. Furthermore, the doorframe is mentioned in all standard police detective textbooks as a routine location to search.
The prosecutor’s case rests primarily on the confession extracted from Ishikawa while he was in police custody. However, this confession is filled with statements that violate commonsense and do not match the physical layout and characteristics of the crime scene. These discrepancies, in addition to raising reasonable doubt as to whether Ishikawa actually committed the crime, also raise questions about how ‘confessions’ are drafted under the Japanese criminal justice system.
There are no witnesses who have testified to seeing Ishikawa and the girl together. This lack of testimony is odd given that the confession states that Ishikawa and the victim walked together for several hundred meters in the middle of the day. The path they were supposed to have taken led between two fields, and the day on which this was supposed to have happened also coincided with the town's annual festival, which was being held very close by. Over ten people were working in the fields that day, and the festival drew well over 800 people, some of whom would have walked along this path on their way to the festival. The people working in the fields were questioned, but none of them remember seeing Ishikawa and the girl together. No one else from the town stepped forward with such testimony either. This is all to say nothing of the implausibility of a 16-year-old high school student following an older man she did not know into a forest in the first place.
The confession states that Ishikawa killed the girl because she started to scream. In an attempt to silence her, he choked her, and before he knew it, she was dead. However, at this exact time (slightly after 4pm), a man was working in his field approximately 20 meters away from where the murder supposedly happened. He was questioned by the police repeatedly and testified that, while he could faintly hear the sounds of the festival over 500 meters away, he heard no screaming while he was working. In one of his last sessions with the police, he stated that he might have heard someone calling sometime before 3:30, but from the direction opposite the forest. This statement was used in the first trial as evidence that someone had heard the murder take place. The full contents of the man's sessions with the police and his exact location during the crime were not released to the defense until 1981, 28 years after Ishikawa was tried.
Ishikawa's confession says that the girl sustained a deep cut to her head during the struggle. However, analyses of the soil in the area revealed no trace of blood. Ishikawa had also confessed that he killed the student with his right hand, inadvertently crushing her neck in an attempt to keep her from screaming. The coroner's report states that the amount of force required to do this would have left bruises on her neck – no such marks were found. Instead, there were marks from a cloth being wrapped tightly around her neck.
The confession also maintains that Ishikawa carried the 54 kg body from the forest back in the direction of the town and his home, where he tied a rope around her ankles and lowered it headfirst into a hole. The confession explicitly states that Ishikawa carried the body in front of him the entire distance, without slinging it over his shoulder. The defense team has conducted several experiments whereby strong young men try to carry a body weighing 54 kg along the same path. Not one of these men was able to carry this weight for anywhere near the entire distance. A coroner has also testified that if a fresh corpse were lowered into a hole by a rope tied around the ankles, there would be marks left around the ankles. No such marks were found.
There were a number of footprints found at both the supposed murder scene and where the body was found. However, none of these match Ishikawa's.
These discrepancies and inconsistencies have been presented to the Tokyo High Court by the Sayama Legal Defense Team as part of the third appeal for a retrial of the case.
- "No. 122". Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. 2002-01-29. Retrieved 2008-04-30.
- [dead link]
- Isao Naka's testimony at the 39th appeal trial.
- The testimony of Rokuzo Ishikawa, the older brother of Kazuo Ishikawa, at the 16th appeal trial.
- [dead link]
- "主 文 本件抗告を棄却する。理 由" (PDF). Courts.go.jp. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
- The testimony of the policemen at the 5th to 13th appeal trial.
- 解放新聞 January 15, 1973
- [dead link]
- "Paroled murderer maintains innocence over 1963 Sayama case". Japan Policy & Politics. 2002.
- "Man found guilty in '63 murder case seeks retrial". The Japan Times. 2006-05-24. Retrieved 2008-03-26.
- "Examine the Evidence: The Sayama Case". Imadr.org. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
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