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Friday, April 11, 2008

Hatoyama 'solemnly' reveals four more convicts hanged

Justice minister ties predecessor's tally with 10 executions since August


Staff writer

Four death-row inmates were hanged Thursday, bringing to 10 the number of executions Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama has approved since he took office last August.

Hatoyama released the names and details of the inmates — in line with the new disclosure policy he earlier introduced — at a hastily arranged news conference.

"I must (issue) a very sad notice," he told reporters before revealing that Masato Sakamoto, 41, and Kaoru Akinaga, 61, went to the gallows at the Tokyo Detention House, while Katsuyoshi Nakamoto, 64, and Masaharu Nakamura, 61, were executed at the Osaka Detention House.

Hatoyama in December approved three hangings and three more in February.

His third round of executions cut the number of death-row inmates to 104, while putting him even with his predecessor, Jinen Nagase, who approved 10 executions during an 11-month stint in office.

Hatoyama explained that Thursday's hangings "brought down the number of death-row inmates to the level it was when I became justice minister," but later clarified that this figure does not play a role in his judgment when approving executions.

Repeating the term "solemnly" several times during the 15-minute news conference, Hatoyama stated that he is merely "taking care of duties as a justice minister" in signing the approvals.

The Justice Ministry said Sakamoto kidnapped a 16-year-old high school girl in July 2002 and strangled her after raping her in Seta, Gunma Prefecture. He demanded a ransom from the girl's family and got ¥230,000.

The Maebashi District Court handed him a life term on grounds that the murder was not premeditated, but the Tokyo High Court in October 2004 sentenced him to hang. Sakamoto, who already had a criminal record that included burglary and an assault on an 8-year-old girl, did not file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Akinaga, who changed his name from Okashita while on death row, conspired with two acquaintances in July 1989 to defraud an 82-year-old landlord in Tokyo's Suginami Ward. He obtained ¥208 million by selling her property and later choked her to death. Akinaga then shot an accomplice in the head and decapitated him during a quarrel over the money.

The case unraveled five years after the murders when Akinaga was arrested for possession of illegal stimulants and questioned by police.

The Tokyo District Court handed him a life term but the Tokyo High Court later sentenced him to hang. The Supreme Court upheld this ruling in March 2005.

Nakamoto fatally stabbed a 70-year-old jewelry dealer and his wife in May 1982 while burglarizing the couple's home in Izumi, Osaka Prefecture. He stole ¥24,000 and fled but returned three days later to steal more jewelry.

The Supreme Court finalized his death sentence in January 1997. Nakamoto had maintained his innocence.

Nakamura was convicted for tricking an unidentified man in his 60s into taking sleeping pills in October 1989, causing the victim to suffer fatal brain damage. The killer sexually abused the man at a park in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, before dismembering the corpse with kitchen knives and saws.

Nakamura cut up a 52-year-old man in a similar manner two months later and left the decapitated body inside a well in the same area.

His defense argued that Nakamura was schizophrenic and thus should not be held liable for his crimes, but the Supreme Court finalized his sentence in September 2004.

Although Hatoyama told the news conference that he approved the executions after "careful and thorough examination of each case," human rights groups and lawyers were quick to denounce the multiple hangings.

Pointing out that there have been four cases in which a death-row inmate was pronounced innocent in retrials, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations demanded the government halt executions until improvements are made in the justice system.

"The government should not rush into approving executions," but instead discuss the morality and propriety of capital punishment, the federation's president, Makoto Miyazaki, said in a statement.

The federation also criticized the Justice Ministry for its lack of concern over overseas demands on the question of capital punishment, noting that Thursday's hangings reveal the government's eagerness to continue ignoring an international trend to abolish executions.



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