OSAKA – The Osaka District Court on Wednesday sentenced a 46-year-old man to death after a lay judge trial convicted him in the 2004 slaying of an elderly couple in the victims’ home.
Ex-construction worker Katsuaki Suzuki had pleaded not guilty, but the panel of three professional and six lay judges ruled there was no denying he was the culprit.
Suzuki used a blunt object to kill business owner Kenji Asai, 74, and his wife, Kiyo, 73, at their home in Izumi, Osaka Prefecture, on Dec. 3, 2004, and then stole a luxury watch and the couple’s car, the court said, adding he later sold the watch to a pawn shop.
The corpses were found in metal drums in a garage in Hannan, Osaka Prefecture, in 2009.
In seeking the death penalty, prosecutors said it was obvious Suzuki had committed the crime, pointing out that his DNA was detected at the scene where the bodies were found.
But his defense team argued there was insufficient proof, noting prosecutors failed to specify when or where the killings took place and were unable to produce the murder weapon.
But presiding Judge Yasushi Hatayama said the court could “clearly recognize that the defendant was involved in the robbery-murder.”
“The defendant acted selfishly and continued to lead a normal life after putting the victims’ bodies in the drums. It was an inhuman crime that leaves no room for leniency,” he said in sentencing Suzuki.
It was the 20th death sentence handed down in a lay judge trial since such trials were introduced in 2009.
After the ruling, the lay judges who attended a news conference said they deliberated thoroughly until they reached the final decision.
“In the final stage of the deliberations, I became frightened (to realize the weight of the sentence) . . . it was difficult to find words to express my opinion,” said a lay judge in her 40s.
A lay judge in her 30s said she wanted to hear more from the defendant.
“I understand that it is the right of the defendant not to say things that could be used against him, but I wanted to hear how he felt about the victims,” she said. “It was a pity that we couldn’t get to the truth of the case.”