Trio avoid prison in sumo killing

Three wrestlers guilty in 17-year-old's beating death but court says boss issued the order

NAGOYA (Kyodo) The Nagoya District Court sentenced three sumo wrestlers Thursday to suspended 2 1/2-year prison terms for the fatal beating of a 17-year-old stablemate last year in Aichi Prefecture.

The court also ruled that their stable master instructed the three to assault Takashi Saito, who had the ring name Tokitaizan, and recognized the excessive sparring session they conducted on the teen deviated from normal training and was an illegal act of violence.

Yuichiro Izuka, 26, Masakazu Kimura, 25, and Masanori Fujii, 23, had pleaded guilty but said during their trial that they beat Saito under the instructions of stable master Tokitsukaze, whose real name is Junichi Yamamoto.

Yamamoto, 58, is awaiting a separate trial for his involvement in the fatal assault.

Prosecutors had demanded 3 1/2-year prison terms for Izuka and Kimura and a three-year sentence for Fujii for inflicting bodily injuries resulting in Saito’s death.

But the court’s ruling constituted suspended terms of three years each for Izuka and Kimura and 2 1/2 years for Fujii.

The three will not appeal the ruling, their lawyer said.

“The act was contemptible and malicious,” presiding Judge Masaharu Ashizawa said. “The roles played by each of the three was big, but the stable master’s supervision had strong influence and it was difficult for them to disobey him.”

“It cannot be denied that the three wanted to straighten out the victim, but the (stable master’s) instructions make up the biggest part in terms of their motive,” the presiding judge said.

Ashizawa also suggested it could be said that corporal punishment was a usual practice at sumo stables.

The court said the three wrestlers and Yamamoto conspired to beat Saito and subject him to excessive exercise at lodging and training places in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, on June 25 and 26 last year.

On the first day, the three beat Saito, including using a wooden stick on him, on orders from Yamamoto, who was upset that the teen had fled from their lodging area.

The next morning, they subjected Saito to an excessive sparring session for about 30 minutes, during which they slammed him on the ground and beat him with a metal bat.

Saito collapsed after the session and died at a hospital on the afternoon of June 26, 2007.

The cause of death was initially declared acute heart failure, leading police to determine at first there was no foul play.

But an autopsy conducted at the request of the victim’s family later revealed that Saito had actually died from shock as a result of multiple trauma.