First death penalty handed down by lay judges

Condemned killed, dismembered two Chiba men

Kyodo

A 32-year-old man on trial at the Yokohama District Court became on Tuesday the first defendant sentenced to death under the lay judge system, convicted of brutally murdering two men last year.

The court said it had no choice but to hand down the death penalty, noting that although Hiroyuki Ikeda had confessed to the killings, his admission carried little weight.

But after reading out the sentence, presiding Judge Yoshifumi Asayama urged Ikeda to file an appeal, saying, “This is a conclusion of consequence, so as a court, we recommend that you file an appeal.”

Ikeda was charged with conspiring with another man to kill two men in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, in June 2009 before dismembering and dumping their corpses. The victims had been robbed of about ¥13 million.

Because Ikeda did not contest the charges, the trial focused on the severity of punishment to be meted out by the panel of six members of the public and three professional judges.

Judge Asayama called the murders “atrocious” and “the physical suffering of the victims was beyond imagination.”

He said that because the court was asked to choose between the death penalty and life imprisonment, it was “appropriate” to base its judgment on standards set in the case of Norio Nagayama, who was hanged in 1997 for killing four people when he was a teenager.

The so-called Nagayama standards, which take into consideration the number of victims, motives, brutality and social impact, among other factors, have been used for years in determining whether to apply the death sentence in murder cases.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for the second time in a trial involving citizen judges, noting that Ikeda cut off the head of one of the victims with an electric saw while the man was still alive.

The prosecution said in closing arguments that Ikeda’s act was “cruel and heinous at the highest level and deserves maximum condemnation.”

His lawyers asked for leniency, arguing Ikeda had confessed to his involvement in the killings and reflected on his actions.

In the trial, Ikeda at times expressed a willingness to be hanged, but according to his lawyers he recently indicated that he would prefer to live and face up to the consequences of his actions.

In October, prosecutors sought the death penalty for the first time in a lay judge trial of a man charged with murdering two women in Tokyo last year. He was handed a life prison term Nov. 1.

The lay judge system debuted in May 2009.