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Son wants killer dad to atone, not hang

by Daisuke Sato

Kyodo

Hiroto Oyama frequently dreams about his mother floating on the surface of water and his father standing on the gallows.

“I wake up by my own shouting voice,” the 24-year-old Oyama said.

His father, Kiyotaka Oyama, 51, was convicted of killing his wife (Hiroto Oyama’s mother) and his own foster father, and is now waiting to be hanged at the Hiroshima Detention House after his death sentence was finalized in June 2011.

Rather than hoping for his execution, Hiroto Oyama said he wants his father to live and atone for what he did.

“I want people to know there are death sentences that victims’ relatives do not necessarily hope for,” he said.

In October 1998, Kiyotaka Oyama hit his foster father, Tsutomu Oyama, 66, on the head with a dumbbell in a parking lot in the city of Hiroshima, making it look like an accident, and obtained ¥70 million in insurance money after the victim died in January 1999.

He then drowned his wife, Hiromi Oyama, 38, in the bathtub of their Hiroshima home in March 2000 and gained ¥3 million in insurance money.

Kiyotaka Oyama told the boy that she died after she accidentally fell into the sea.

But then Hiroto Oyama, in only his second year in junior high, saw his father handcuffed by police in front of him.

He later saw his father’s photograph on TV with a headline saying “serial murder for insurance money.”

“I was betrayed by my father, who I had trusted,” he said.

Afterward he became self-destructive, began smoking and drinking, and repeatedly engaged in criminal acts, including shoplifting and extortion.

He dropped out of high school only three days after entering and sometimes spent nights on a bench or in a public lavatory in a park.

It was at a home for juvenile offenders that he received a letter from his father, in which he apologized for what he had done and what consequently happened to his son. The father also wrote, “Hang in there.”

Hiroto Oyama tore up the letter and flushed it down the toilet. He could not help feeling outrage. “It was you that made me who I am today. I will never forgive you,” he remembers thinking.

Now he feels jealous and sad when he sees a family: “Why don’t I have that — a normal life with my own family?”

After leaving the juvenile home, he took a huge dose of cold medicine and lost consciousness.

He survived, and the deep hatred for his father faded when he learned that the Hiroshima District Court sentenced him to death in April 2005.

Hiroto Oyama decided to visit his father at the detention house to learn firsthand why he had destroyed their family.

About 3½ years had passed since he had last seen his father, when he was placed under arrest. The father was much thinner and had sunken cheeks.

Hiroto Oyama was unable to express his anger as his father continued to cry, saying, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” The son only nodded, tears streaming down his face.

Since then, he has visited his father more than 200 times and exchanged several hundred letters. He asked his father little by little what had driven him to commit the crimes.

He said he can’t forgive his father for killing his mother, but he also knows that his mother will never come back even if his father is hanged.

“If that’s the case, I’d rather he continue to live and atone for the rest of his life,” he said.

With the intention of helping his father escape the death penalty, Oyama appeared before the Hiroshima High Court.

“As a victim of a crime, I understand that many victims feel the urge to kill the criminal offenders who took the lives of their loved ones,” he said.

“I’m not saying that I am against capital punishment, but (as the son of a condemned prisoner) I can never feel easy as I am scared every morning that today might become the day my father will be executed.

“I want people to know that there are as many emotions toward punishment as there are victims, and there is no single answer,” he said.

  • Scott Durand

    This is a very thoughtful piece that explores the issue of capital punishment from a different perspective.