The case of a condemned, who resuscitated after hanging in Ishizuchi Prefecture (石鐵県死刑囚蘇生事件)

In early Meiji Period the incident occurred and a condemned resuscitated after the execution of hanging in Ishizuchi Prefecture. The incident was known as resuscitation of Tosaku TANAKA or a condemned who came back to life.

Kuma-yama mountain・Kume riot.
In 1871
In Iyo-Matsuyama Domain, from their interpretation of the Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhisum issued by central government, a measurement to abolish the hokora (a small shrine), a syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism, was created, considering it something impure. Residents were strongly opposed to this but the measurement was implemented and hokora were abolished. At that time Katsushige MATSUDAIRA, governor of domain was dismissed from the post and had to go Tokyo, then on August 15, Kuma-yama mountain ・Kume riot was occurred to protest abolishment of hokora and resignation of the governor of the domain.

The riot was led by a certain YAMANOUCHI, and about 3,000 people mainly from Kume-gun county (Iyo Province) joined the riot. The riot was originally planned to petition but the participants turned into a mob, then they broke into a town hall and torched a land tax office. To control the riot, Matsuyama domain sent soldiers and succeed to suppress the protest on August 18. Matsuyama domain became Matsuyama prefecture after Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) and in November of the same year, the name was changed to Ishizuchi Prefecture due to merger and restructuring. Matsuyama domain submitted a letter to the central government to condemn the leader of the riot to death, however the leader was sentenced to penal servitude because he didn't harm law-abiding people. However the two participants of the riot, who set fire were sentenced to ultimate penalty.

Kochu (equipment for judicial hanging)
The Meiji Government issued an edict of Dajokan (Grand Council of state) to replace old methods of capital punishment such as decapitation by hanging in 1870. What was introduced for the first time at this moment was an execution equipment in suspending style called Kochu. This equipment had a structure to choke a condemned by tying a rope around his nape of neck, then setting heavy stones corresponding to 20 kan (unit of volume, approx.3.75 kg) (about 75 kg) at the end of the rope.

The designer of the equipment is unknown, but the producer was a certain NOMURA. NOMURA joined specified competitive bidding but didn't want to undertake the job, so he offered an extortionate price, 130 yen for cost of 25 yen, but since it was the lowest price, he won the bid. Since the equipment had defect, it was used only for 2 years and later drawing (Kozaikikaizushiki) specification of equipment for judicial hanging was introduced. In this defection, a condemned happened to regain consciousness sometimes. Resuscitations occurred because the equipment was not able to provide fatal blow but also the instruction at that time stated "the rope will be set free after 3 minutes after putting stone as weight, when seal of death is confirmed", however it is said unless the execution is continued 5 minutes after arrest of the heart, there is a possibility of resuscitation.

Records show that three of condemneds resuscitated after execution by Kochu but only following Tosaku TNAKA's case tells detailed records of the execution and after the execution today.

Summary of the incident.

The execution of Tosaku TANAKA, a peasant (31 years old at that time) living in Kitagata-mura village, Kume-gun county (present-day Ton City), was carried out at an execution ground located in Takaishigaki, Matsuyma (present-day Hujiwara-cho, Matsuyama city) on November 28, 1872. According to the custom at that time, in case there is no one who takes care of a dead body, dissection is carried out, but the case of Tosaku, his family took the body.

Around about Ichi-ri ("ri" is about 3.927km) (about 4Km) away from the execution ground, people heard groan from Tosaku's coffin, so they opened the cover and discovered that Tosaku came back to life. Tosaku went back to his village alive and the village people reported this to a department called Choshoka (function of police and court) and asked what to do. However the officers of the prefecture had never heard the precedent about a condemned who resuscitated because they considered punishments of Edo Period were supposed to destroy a condemned phisically. Therefore the prefectural government asked the central government how to deal with this and retribution of three officers, who were responsible for the execution.

The reply from the central government was received in September 1873, in the following year, and it said "Tosaku had already been executed but happened to regain consciousness, so it is not necessary to discuss about any longer". It said also "he should be registered on family register as soon as possible", this means the execution as punishment had already been carried out and his family register should be restored. This also means since the execution was carried out according to law and there is no need to carry out execution again. This was referred to a case in France before the revolution in which there was a condemned who resuscitated after hanging and the king pardoned the condemned. Regarding the officers, they were unpunished because there was no fault in their postmortem inspection.

It is said that Tosaku lived until 1898, 26 years after the incident, but there is another story that he died 4 years after the execution. Also it is said that Tosaku lived alone in a small hut and seemed to lose his life force, probably because of an aftereffect of being in a temporary state of apparent death. In this connection, his grave didn't have a gravestone, so it is said to be located somewhere in a bamboo thicket.

Related matters

In a novel entitled 'Shiro no Shokei (literally, White Execution)' written by Ranzo OTA, (in 2004, paperback edition was published by Kodansha Ltd.), a condemned, who is falsely charged, is executed but resuscitates thanks to his hardened neck through wrestling training, then he is set free and chases the real culprit. In the novel the bureaucracy of Ministry of Justice decide on release based on the case of Tosaku. This novel was adapted into a drama in 1985 by TV Asahi Corporation for Saturday Waido Theather, entitled 'Shiro no shokei Koshudai kara ikikaetta otoko' (White execution the man, who came back from scaffold alive), acted by Tomokazu MIURA as former condemned and Kumiko OBA as his sister-in-law.

Because of those cases there is urban legend that "a condemned who resuscitates will be set free". According to a literary work, 'Soshite shikei ha shittkou sareta' by Shiro GODA, (Kohyu syuppan Co., Ltd.) there were actually some condemned who tried to tone up their neck. However according to Takamki MITSUI, former prosecutor, who attended executions when he was working at the High Public Prosecutors' Office in Nagoya, a body of a condemned usually is hanged about 30 minutes and the condemned will be dead for sure, there is no possibility of resuscitation today.

In 1884, around the same time of the incident, there was a condemned called John Lee in England and the execution was discontinued because the falling door didn't open despite three times of attempt (It is said to have been caused by swollenness of the door due to moisture, which was stuck and didn't open when someone stood on it). After that his sentence was commuted and finally he was set free 22 years later, then he married, went to America and died of sickness there in 1933.

Willie Francis (born in 1929) of the United States of America was a condemned who failed the execution (resuscitation after an execution) after WWII. He sat on an electrical chair in 1946 and he is known as the historically first condemned who failed the execution. The cause was inappropriate installation of electronic circuit and mortal current was not generated. He claimed his innocence and insisted if the execution by electrical chair will be carried out twice, the punishment is cruel and aberrant, however his claim was not accepted and he forced to sit on the electrical chair again in 1947. In addition, he was 15 years old when he was put to death, and it corresponds to an execution for people under 18 year old which is now prohibited by a legal precedent of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

[Original Japanese]