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Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008

Condemned trio sent to the gallows


Staff writer

Three condemned convicts were hanged Friday and the government released their names and other details in line with the disclosure policy introduced by Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama with his Dec. 7 approval of three other executions.

News photo
Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama faces reporters Friday in Tokyo to announce three executions. KYODO PHOTO

Takashi Mochida, 65, went to the gallows at the Tokyo Detention House, Keishi Nago, 37, was hanged in Fukuoka and Masahiko Matsubara, 63, was executed in Osaka.

Coming 55 days after the December hangings, the second round of executions authorized by Hatoyama reduced the number of death-row inmates to 104. Hatoyama has approved six executions since he took up his post last August, and at this rate will surpass his predecessor, Jinen Nagase, who approved 10 during his 11-month stint.

"My judgment will be based on a variety of elements, including considerations for retrials and official pardons — but not on timings or intervals (of executions) or the number of inmates on death row," Hatoyama told reporters Friday after approving the hangings.

According to information released by the Justice Ministry, Mochida was initially handed a seven-year prison term in 1989 for burglary and raping a 37-year-old woman in Tokyo. He returned to murder the victim in 1997 after serving his sentence, fatally stabbing her with a kitchen knife several times at a housing complex in Koto Ward.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Mochida to life imprisonment, but the High Court overturned the sentence and condemned him. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling and his sentence was finalized in October 2004.

Nago was convicted of fatally stabbing his 40-year-old sister-in-law and his 17-year-old niece in August 2002 at their home in Isencho, Kagoshima Prefecture. His 13-year-old nephew sustained severe chest wounds and was hospitalized for 88 days.

The Kagoshima District Court sentenced Nago to death in 2004 and the sentence was finalized when he withdrew his high court appeal that year.

Matsubara was convicted of breaking into a home in Yamakawacho, Tokushima Prefecture in April 1988 and raping and murdering a 61-year-old housewife and stealing ¥28,000. He was also found guilty of raping and killing a 44-year-old housewife in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, two months later, and stealing ¥99,500. Matsubara had been convicted three times for robbery prior to the killings.

The Supreme Court upheld the lower court rulings and finalized Matsubara's death sentence in April 1997.

He had sought a retrial, but the request was rejected last October.

The Justice Ministry ended its long-standing secrecy surrounding executions last December when it released for the first time the details of the inmates hanged at the time in an apparent effort to dispel criticism. Since 1998, only the number of executed inmates had been disclosed.

"Disclosure of such information is important to explain to the public that executions are being properly carried out," the Justice Ministry explained in releasing the details last December.

But Friday's hangings come during a growing international trend to abolish capital punishment.

Last December, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a nonbinding resolution against capital punishment, calling on U.N. member states to establish a moratorium on executions. Japan and the United States, which are the only major industrialized countries not to have abolished the death penalty, voted against the resolution.

Amnesty International Japan, previously the source for information about hanged inmates during the government's nondisclosure era, denounced Friday's executions in a statement, saying the practice "tramples on international opinion against death penalties.

"We fear that Japan is going against an international trend to abolish executions, which is spreading regardless of political, religious and cultural differences" in each country, the group said.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations also criticized the hangings, pointing out that there have been four cases in which a death-row inmate was cleared of his crimes and pronounced innocent in retrials.

"A fundamental improvement has not been made in the legal system, and there still lies a possibility of a wrongful capital punishment," Chairman Seigo Hirayama said in a statement, noting Friday's hangings demonstrate the government's eagerness to continue carrying out potentially unjust executions.

However, Justice Minister Hatoyama has supported capital punishment on grounds that it is a deterrent against crimes, and that there is wide public support for the death penalty in Japan.



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