'SUICIDE PACT' DEFENSE DOESN'T FLY

High court overturns acquittal, locks up murderer

The Tokyo High Court sentenced a man to 15 years in prison Monday for murdering his girlfriend in her apartment in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, in December 1993, overturning a June 2003 lower court acquittal.

The case was reopened after prosecutors revoked their earlier decision not to indict.

The high court found Kei Sasaki, 32, guilty of murdering Miho Iijima, 25, a jewelry store employee. Sasaki had been charged with murder and arson.

Prosecutors had demanded a life sentence.

Sasaki, who was released from jail after he was acquitted in June, was again taken into custody immediately after the ruling. His lawyers said he immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.

Presiding Judge Yu Shiraki said, “There was no reason for the victim to commit suicide, and the court finds the defendant, who had threatened to kill the victim, guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The court finds the callous crime, in which the defendant murdered his girlfriend when they were about to separate, beyond forgiveness and the defendant will bear a heavy responsibility,” Shiraki said.

Sasaki slashed Iijima’s throat and set her apartment on fire with kerosene on Dec. 14, 1993, the high court ruled.

Prosecutors argued in the trial that Iijima had died of heart failure due to her neck wound and inhaled carbon monoxide from the fire, while Sasaki pleaded not guilty and said Iijima had forced him into a suicide pact, and had slashed her own neck.

The lower court had declared that a crime had been committed but was unable to determine that Sasaki was the perpetrator. But the high court judge said it was reasonable to believe Sasaki stabbed Iijima and then started the fire.

Sasaki was arrested in February 2001, a little more than seven years after the incident, when prosecutors decided to revoke their earlier decision not to indict him.

Earlier on, Kanagawa Prefectural Police, acting on a criminal complaint filed by Iijima’s parents, sent the case to prosecutors, but they dropped it in June 1998 due to insufficient evidence.

The prosecutors reopened the investigation following a ruling in a damages suit in July 2000 that found Sasaki responsible for murder and arson. He was ordered to pay 97 million yen in compensation.

Iijima’s parents filed the suit with the Yokohama District Court in December 1996.

In September 2001, the Supreme Court upheld a Tokyo High Court decision that supported the district court ruling in the damages suit.

After Monday’s ruling, Iijima’s parents, Yoshio and Ikuko, told a news conference they want to report their victory to their daughter, adding there is only one truth.

“Miho always lives in my mind,” said Yoshio Iijima, 70. “We have experienced both heaven and hell, but many people have supported us.”