The Tokyo High Court on Thursday overturned a lower court decision in a lay judge trial that sentenced a 62-year-old man to death for murder, commuting the sentence to life in prison.
In March 2011, a panel of three professional and six citizen judges in the Tokyo District Court gave the death penalty to Kazuo Ino for killing 74-year-old Nobuji Igarashi only six months after serving a 20-year prison sentence for killing his wife and daughter in 1988.
The presiding judge in the high court trial, Hitoshi Murase, said Thursday the lower court erred by placing too much emphasis on Ino’s previous crimes.
This is the first time a high court has overturned a death sentence issued in a lay judge trial.
Murase reviewed previous capital punishment cases in which the defendants’ criminal records had been given importance and noted that in most of them the defendants, having been sentenced to life in prison for murder, committed similar crimes when they were free on parole.
Murase said Ino killed his wife after a quarrel and then tried to force their daughter to die with him, but there were no similarities between that case and the killing of Igarashi some 20 years later.
The judge said Ino’s latest crime did not constitute a capital offense given that there was only one victim and that it was not premeditated.
Despite the commutation, Ino’s lawyers said he will still file an appeal with the Supreme Court because he still maintains his innocence.
Both the lower and high courts found Ino guilty of breaking into an apartment in Tokyo’s Minami-Aoyama district in November 2009 with the intention of committing robbery and of killing Igarashi by stabbing him in the neck with a kitchen knife.
Ino was sentenced to 20 years in 1989 for killing his 36-year-old wife at their home in the city of Chiba and setting fire to it, resulting in the death of their 3-year-old daughter.