Friday, Oct. 23, 1998
Staff writerFriday's ruling that sentenced to death former Aum Shinrikyo senior figure Kazuaki Okazaki is widely viewed by legal experts as "a matter of course," considering the heinous nature of the crimes.Explaining the reasons for capital punishment, presiding Judge Megumi Yamamuro at the Tokyo District Court said Okazaki's criminal responsibility is "extremely grave" in light of the nature of the crime, the motive and the result of the killings, the sentiment of the victims' families and the social impact brought about by the case. These factors followed the premises for the death penalty in what is known as the Supreme Court's Nagayama landmark ruling in July 1983.The top court sentenced to death Norio Nagayama who was convicted of the serial killing of four people in the late 1960s. The Nagayama ruling said the death penalty can be handed down if the defendant's criminal responsibility is grave in terms of the premises cited in Friday's ruling.In defense of their client, Okazaki's lawyers have argued in the trial that his April 1995 confession should be regarded as tantamount to voluntary surrender. According to Article 42 of the Criminal Code, leniency can be granted to those who surrender to investigative authorities before the crime in question comes to light.As a result, the Okazaki trial has shared its focus with that of former cult doctor Ikuo Hayashi on whether the defendant's confession is regarded as tantamount to voluntary surrender.In the ruling for Hayashi, the district court judged his confession a voluntary surrender and exercised leniency for his involvement in the indiscriminate murder in the Tokyo subway gas attack, which killed 12 people and injured more than 3,000. Hayashi was sentenced to life imprisonment last May, despite the court saying that he deserves the death penalty due to the gravity of the crime.In Okazaki's ruling, the court said his action was regarded as a surrender but that he did not deserve leniency because his motive to confess -- an attempt to protect himself from Aum -- and the fact that he did not divulge all the facts initially.The most prominent difference between Okazaki's case and Hayashi's was the time before confession.