Former baseball star Kazuhiro Kiyohara was sentenced Tuesday to 2½ years in prison, suspended for four years, for possessing, using and purchasing illegal drugs.
The ruling by the Tokyo District Court means that the 48-year-old former Seibu Lions and Yomiuri Giants slugger walked free.
His lawyers had requested a suspended term with probation, which would have required him to take part in a government-sponsored rehabilitation program to prevent recidivism.
The prosecution had demanded 30 months in prison without suspension for violating the stimulants control law concerning psychoactive agents such as amphetamine and methamphetamine.
Presiding Judge Junichi Yoshikai called Kiyohara’s crimes “malicious” but said he had already been socially sanctioned after his arrest was widely reported in the media.
“The defendant had been making social contributions through his performance as a leading professional baseball slugger,” Yoshikai said.
“I am sorry,” Kiyohara said as he turned to the gallery after the ruling was handed down.
Kiyohara, who retired in 2008, ranks fifth in Nippon Pro Baseball history with 525 career home runs and sixth in RBIs with 1,530.
He was arrested Feb. 2 for possession of stimulant drugs at his apartment in Tokyo. He was additionally charged with using drugs at a Tokyo hotel around Feb. 1 and purchasing the drugs from an acquaintance at a hotel in Gunma Prefecture around Sept. 1.
Kiyohara admitted to the charges as his trial opened two weeks ago, saying he began using drugs because he could not deal with stress and anxiety after retirement, and apologized to young people who are aspiring to become professional baseball players.
Hoping to witness the high-profile trial, more than 1,700 people lined up for the 21 public gallery seats available.
Hideaki Sasano, 50, who said he played baseball in high school and is a fan of Kiyohara, was one of the people who lined up outside the court.
“I want (society) to give him a chance to recover,” he said. “He definitely needs other people’s help in avoiding drugs.”
Another person in line, a 47-year-old Osaka woman, said she bumped into Kiyohara on a street in Osaka, where he is also from.
“He patted my son on his head,” she said. “He is good to children, and I want him to come back to Osaka and teach the kids baseball in his hometown.”