About the Case

On May 1, 1963, in Sayama City, north of Tokyo, a female high school student disappeared on her way home from school. That evening, a ransom note was delivered to her home.

Soon after, the girl’s body was found in a nearby field. After a team of 40 police investigators failed to capture the criminal, the chief of police resigned and media began to scrutinize the case. Under intense public criticism, the police searched a nearby Buraku district on the off chance that they would find the criminal there. On May 23, they arrested Kazuo Ishikawa.

Ishikawa was originally arrested on unrelated charges, and then released on bail after the police had investigated his potential role in the murder. On June 17, however, he was arrested and detained again, and the investigation regarding his connection to the murder continued. Following the second arrest, the public prosecutor limited Ishikawa’s contact with his lawyers to only five minutes, and forbade contact completely from June 21 to 25. The police intimidated Ishikawa, threatening to arrest and prosecute his brother, the sole breadwinner in the family at that time, if he did not confess to the crime. They also misleadingly assured him that if he did confess, they would release him after ten years. On June 23, the investigators finally succeeded in extracting a confession from Ishikawa, and he was prosecuted on July 9. Prior to his trial, Ishikawa was held in police detention centers for a total of 47 days, during which time a number of confession reports were written by investigators then signed by him. The court’s decision that Ishikawa was guilty relied primarily on these reports.

At his first trial, Ishikawa pled guilty, thinking that he would be released after ten years. The court ruled that lacking special circumstances, the confession was to be trusted, and sentenced him to death on March 11, 1964. At the second trial in October 1974, the Tokyo High Court ruled that the evidence tied Ishikawa to the crime and confirmed his guilt, but they commuted his sentence to lifetime imprisonment with hard labor. Their decision to uphold the lower court’s guilty verdict also relied heavily on content from the confessions signed by Ishikawa during his detention. When the case was appealed to the Supreme Court in 1977, no effort was made to investigate either the method by which the confession was extracted at the police detention center, or the fact that Ishikawa was originally arrested on charges unrelated to the murder.

Ishikawa served 32 years of hard labor in prison, maintaining his innocence the entire time. He was released on probation in December 1994. He and his wife Sachiko (he married in 1996) make public appearances throughout Japan in which they profess Ishikawa’s innocence and explain the problems underlying the Sayama Case.

Since the 1974 Tokyo High Court ruling, two appeals for retrial have been submitted and rejected. The first appeal took eight years to be turned down, and the second 17 years. Over the course of the 43 years since the initial sentencing, the defense team has submitted new evidence supporting Ishikawa’s innocence, yet this and the two appeals for retrial, the courts have not conducted any further investigation into the evidence, witnesses, or crime scene. Furthermore, they have made no move to review the system that allows for suspects to be held without charge or trial for extended periods of time, or the processes by which confessions are extracted from suspects. Instead, the 'substitute prison system', which allows for detainees to be held under direct police control for up to 23 days, is in the process of being changed from a ‘temporary measure’ (‘temporarily’ established in 1908 and still used today) to a formalized standard practice.

On May 23, 2006, 43 years after Ishikawa’s initial arrest, the Sayama legal defense team issued a third appeal for retrial of the case in the hope of proving Ishikawa’s innocence and forcing the Japanese government to reexamine its criminal justice system.



sayama station, north of tokyo