All lay judges quiz accused killer

by Setsuko Kamiya

At the first trial under the new lay judge system, all six citizens sitting on the bench posed questions Wednesday to 72-year-old defendant Katsuyoshi Fujii, who is charged with murdering 66-year-old neighbor Mun Chun Ja.

Prosecutors for their part demanded that the Tokyo District Court hand down a 16-year prison term.

Both sides made their closing arguments during the day’s session.

Most of the questions posed by the lay judges, who included one replacement for one who called in sick, focused on the details of the fatal stabbing in May of the Korean resident, whose Japanese name was Chie Kojima.

The alternate who filled her seat was a man, changing the makeup of the lay judges to four women and two men. Among the three professionals, one judge is a woman.

Fujii has pleaded guilty, but his lawyers argue that although his actions led to Mun’s death, he did not intend to kill her. At issue is Fujii’s intention, which will determine the severity of punishment.

A ruling is expected Thursday afternoon.

“I want to ask you about the survival knife you used,” said Lay Judge No. 1, seated at the far left. The names of all the lay judges have been withheld. “Why did you think of taking that knife after you had a quarrel with Kojima?” she asked.

Fujii replied that he thought it would serve to frighten the victim. To this the lay judge followed up: “Why use the survival knife and not another from the kitchen?”

To this, the defendant replied: “Kitchen knives are longer and dangerous.”

For their part, prosecutors have asserted that Fujii had a strong intent to kill and should be severely punished. They also want his criminal records taken into account when they decide the prison term.

Testimony during the trial revealed that about 45 years ago, Fujii’s friend had died when the two were imitating pro wrestlers they were watching on TV. The two were drunk, and Fujii’s friend fell on his neck. Fujii has also been convicted of drunken driving, and driving after his license has been taken away.

Fujii’s counsel has argued that his past record of bodily injury resulting in death should have no bearing on the current case.

Another lay judge asked Fujii: “After the stabbing, you said you thought she could die, so why didn’t you call an ambulance?”

Fujii responded that he believed another neighbor who saw the victim after the stabbing would call for help.

The three professional judges finally took their turns after all the lay judges had finished.

Mun lived across a narrow lane from Fujii, and the two had been on bad terms for several years. Fujii said they had problems over how she would step on his property when she moved her motorcycle.

“This is not the first time the accused took someone’s life,” prosecutor Tetsuko Machida said. “Perhaps I shouldn’t play it up too much, but normally, a person would never take the life of another. But he has done this twice.”

Meamwhile, defense attorney Shunji Date argued that Fujii was provoked by Mun, spurring him to go into his house to get the knife he used to stab her.

Prior to the closing arguments Wednesday, the victim’s younger son read a statement describing the sadness the family felt over their sudden loss and implored the judges to hand down a heavy sentence.

The victim’s attorney demanded a prison term of not less than 20 years.

Under a rule change instituted last year, people victimized by crimes are allowed to address the court.

Presiding Judge Yasuhiro Akiba also announced that Lay Judge No. 3 had withdrawn due to illness and was being replaced by an alternate, a man who appears to be in his 50s referred to as Lay Judge No. 7.