TOKYO (AP) _ A 93-year-old convict who has been on death row for the past 30 years insisted on his innocence Thursday and asked a judge to release him so he could visit his family's graves, his lawyer said.

During a seven-minute interview, Sadamichi Hirasawa, seated in a wheelchair with a blanket across his knees, maintained his innocence in the 1948 poisoning deaths of 12 people, said his lawyer, Makoto Endo.

A perition has been filed seeking Hirasawa's release on the ground that Japan's penal code voids sentences not carried out within 30 years. The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence on May 7, 1955.

Endo held a news conference to discuss Hirasawa's meeting with Judge Kozo Fujita and representatives of the Justice Ministry.

According to Edno, Hirasawa said fingerprints found on a tea cup at the scene of the poisoning were not his. The lawyer said Hirasawa also expressed his wish to be released as soon as possible so he can visit family graves.

The interview was the first time in 20 years that Hirasawa has been questioned by court officials, the Kyodo News Service said.

Justice Ministry officials have argued the law about carrying out sentences within 30 years applies only to those who are at large and that Hirasawa does not qualify.

However, on April 29 Hirasawa was moved to Hachioji Medical Detention House near Tokyo from a prison in Sendai, northern Japan. That raised speculation he was about to be released.

Hirasawa was found guilty of robbing a Tokyo branch of the former Teikoku (Imperial) Bank in January 1948 by posing as a sanitation officer and tricking 15 employees and a child to drink what was described as anti- dysentery medicine.

Twelve of the 16 died from what was later found to be potassium cyanide.

Hirasawa confessed to the killings after hours of interrogation, but retracted his confession in court and has since insisted that he is innocent.