Top court upholds death sentence for trio

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected appeals by three men sentenced to death for a series of murders and kidnappings between 1986 and 1991.

This is the first time since 1967 that the top court has upheld three death sentences in a single trial, according to court officials.

The three are Shigeo Okazaki, 50, a one-time Iwate Prefectural Police officer, Yasuhiro Sako, 63, a painter, and Shoko Kumagai, 61, a construction worker.

The trio kidnapped a 41-year-old moneylender in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, in 1986 and a 48-year-old paint company president in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, in 1989, the court said. In both cases, the perpetrators killed the victims after taking millions of yen from them.

In 1991, Sako abducted a paint worker in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, and released him in exchange for 20 million yen in ransom.

In 1998, the Sendai High Court supported a 1995 decision by the Fukushima District Court and sentenced the trio to death — a ruling that was appealed by lawyers representing the defendants.

During a Supreme Court hearing in April, defense lawyers argued that the high court ruling featured a grave factual error and demanded that the decision be repealed.

In Friday’s ruling, however, presiding Justice Hiroharu Kitagawa denounced the crimes as “coldblooded, cruel and inhuman” and concluded that all three “played active roles in the crimes.

Five other people were indicted in connection with the three cases. One of them died of illness during a district court trial, three were sentenced to life terms and the other was given six years in prison.

Murderer gets life

A 22-year-old man was sentenced Friday to life in prison for murdering an elderly woman in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward in 2001.

The man, whose name is being withheld because he was 19 when he committed the crime, stabbed Masako Mizuochi to death during a robbery near her flat in an apartment complex on the evening of Feb. 1, 2001, according to the Tokyo District Court.

The victim suffered from hearing problems and lived alone.

Presiding Judge Satoru Hattori said the man’s criminal responsibility was grave.

“The act of the accused is coldblooded and cruel,” stabbing the victim 24 times only because he wanted money to cover his expenses, the judge said.

The man was also found guilty of beating up an elderly man at a park in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward later the same month, robbing him of 2,000 yen.

Prosecutors had demanded a life term.