• Kyodo

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A man and his girlfriend were sentenced to death Friday for killing the woman’s husband in 1992 and her son in 1998 for life insurance money.

Antique dealer Kazuo Hokao, 55, and former insurance saleswoman Reiko Yamaguchi, 44, drowned her husband Katsuhiko Yamaguchi, 38, at a quay in Tara, Saga Prefecture, on Sept. 11, 1992, after giving him sleeping pills, the Nagasaki District Court ruled.

The pair also drowned Yamaguchi’s 16-year-old son, Yoshinori, in Konagai, Nagasaki Prefecture, on Oct. 27, 1998, according to the ruling.

Presiding Judge Keizo Yamamoto said the crimes “were not the acts of humans” and said there was no choice but to hand down the death penalty.

The pair pleaded guilty to the charges but blamed each other for taking the lead in the crimes. In July, prosecutors had demanded death sentences for both.

Yamamoto said the two “acted in unison in all stages — the planning, preparation and perpetration” in the murder of Yamaguchi’s husband. He added that while the two had helped each other, Yamaguchi was a necessary component in the crime as she was the recipient of the insurance money and thus her responsibility is greater than that of Hokao.

According to the judge, the murder of Yamaguchi’s son would have similarly been impossible if either one of the two had not taken part in the plan. As such, the court cannot determine which bore heavier responsibility, he said.

After reading out the sentence, the judge added, “This court has concluded that the death penalty cannot be avoided, but I add that I, too, would like you to appeal so that (a higher court) can also consider the case.”

Both Hokao and Yamaguchi are expected to appeal the ruling.

During the trial, Yamaguchi’s lawyers said she wanted to kill her husband in retaliation for his repeated extramarital affairs. They added that when Hokao, who was a gambling addict and would often beat her, came up with the idea of killing her son, Yamaguchi thought that she could end their relationship if she gave him the insurance money.

Yamaguchi’s other son and daughter said in statements read to the court during the trial that they want their mother to come home, and her lawyers asked that she not be given the death penalty.

However, Yamamoto said that because the case was an internal family matter, it was only natural for close relatives to seek a lenient ruling.

“The murder of the husband was premeditated, and the killing of the son is unparalleled in its cruelty. There is no premise for reducing the sentence,” according to the judge.

Lawyers for Hokao argued that Yamaguchi played the lead role in the murder of her husband, and that there was little difference in responsibility for the death of her son, which abused the teen’s trust of his mother.

But the judge said Hokao actively took part in the killings and that he played a major role by strongly pushing the plans forward.

The defendants, residents of Kashima, Saga Prefecture, pushed the husband off the quay and received some 100 million yen in insurance money by falsely declaring he had died in a fishing accident, the court ruled. The Saga Prefectural Police did not conduct an autopsy or carry out an in-depth investigation into the case.

The pair claimed an insurance payment of 35 million yen for the boy’s death, but the insurers refused to pay because rescuers who recovered his body from the sea doubted the couple’s explanation that he died accidentally after sleeping drugs were detected in his body, after which police opened an investigation.

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