Sakae Menda (免田栄, Menda Sakae, November 4, 1925 – December 5, 2020) was a Japanese who was convicted of a double homicide, in 1948, but was later exonerated by retrial in 1983. This was the first time anyone was ever released from death row by retrial in Japan. He was a leading figure in Japan for the movement to abolish the death penalty.
On December 30, 1948, an unknown killer broke into the house of a 76-year-old Buddhist priest and his 52-year-old wife in Kumamoto Prefecture on Kyushu and murdered them using an axe and a knife. The killer also wounded their two young daughters, aged 12 and 14. During the same period, Sakae Menda, a poor and uneducated farmhand, was arrested on the charge of stealing rice.
Police held Menda for three weeks, without allowing him access to a lawyer, until they extracted a confession. During interrogation, he was starved of food, water and sleep, and beaten with bamboo sticks while being suspended upside down from a ceiling. The police eventually coerced Menda into signing a written statement. He was tried and was convicted of double homicide despite pleading innocent. On March 23, 1950, Judge Haruo Kinoshita sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court of Japan upheld his sentence on December 25, 1951. A lawyer only came to see Menda once before the trial. The lawyer, a Buddhist monk, came to pray for him, but offered no professional expertise to help him fight the charges, but instead told Menda to accept his fate. His trial did not include any physical evidence or the witness accounts that proved Menda had an alibi. He was wrongly convicted of murder and robbery based on the extorted confession.
Under the Japanese 1907 penal code, death row inmates, unless they are involved in legal appeals, could be taken away for execution at prison gallows at any time, with little notice. Executions in Japan are typically held in secret, and prisoners are either not warned of their impending execution or are notified only on the morning of the day of the execution. Their families are informed later so they can collect the corpse for cremation.