Calling the sentence an “error,” the Tokyo High Court has overturned a death penalty handed down by a lay judge panel to a man found guilty of the 2009 murder of a female college student, imposing life imprisonment instead.
This was the second time that a high court has abrogated a death sentence rendered by a lay judge panel. The first was in June. In both cases, Hitoshi Murase was the presiding judge in determining they should be overturned.
In the latest case, Tatsumi Tateyama, 52, was accused of robbing and killing Yukari Ogino, 21, a student at Chiba University, in her apartment in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, in October 2009.
“There has been a tendency in precedents not to select the death sentence when there was only one victim killed in a robbery-murder and it was not premeditated,” Murase said in overturning the death sentence.
He acknowledged that Tateyama broke in and threatened Ogino with a knife to rob her of cash after she came home but ruled the slaying was not premeditated.
“He did not have any intent to kill when he demanded money and valuables, while circumstances just before the killing and his motive remain unclear,” Murase said.
The panel of lay judges, who were assisted by professional judges, at the Chiba District Court took into account Tateyama’s criminal record, including cases of robbery, assault and rape.
Murase concluded this factor should not have warranted capital punishment.
“While it was a result deliberated on by lay and professional judges, (the sentence) has to be overturned so long as the penalty chosen was an error,” he said.
Lay judge panels were introduced in May 2009 for serious crimes such as robbery resulting in injuries, reckless driving and murders.