• Kyodo


A 37-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for abducting and murdering a 16-year-old high school girl last year in Gunma Prefecture.

Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Masahito Sakamoto, from the village of Kasukawa in the same prefecture. Sakamoto had demanded and received a ransom from the parents of Ai Yasuda after killing her.

“It was not a premeditated crime, and the defendant is beginning to feel remorse,” presiding Judge Yasuhiro Kuga claimed in handing down the Maebashi District Court ruling. “Therefore, it is appropriate for the defendant . . . to atone for the rest of his life.”

Yasuda’s parents issued a statement saying they are not satisfied and hope prosecutors file an appeal so that a higher court can hand down the death penalty.

Prosecutors said they will decide whether to appeal after consultations.

After the defendant was taken from the courtroom, Kuga addressed the parents, saying, “It is easy for criminals to murder people, but it is difficult for the state to impose the death sentence. I realize you are not satisfied, but that’s the case.”

According to the court, Sakamoto planned to kidnap somebody so that authorities would allow him to meet his former wife, who had been given shelter along with her daughter by the prefectural welfare office. He had allegedly physically abused the daughter.

Sakamoto abducted Yasuda, a first-year student at Maebashi Higashi Commercial High School, on July 19 last year on a street when she was on her way home in the town of Ogo, drove her to the village of Miyagi and strangled her in a forest there.

After the slaying, Sakamoto telephoned her family to demand a ransom and received 230,000 yen in cash from the girl’s father in the town of Akabori the following day. He was arrested immediately after picking up the money.

In a statement released through their lawyer, Yasuda’s parents said the court ruling was “extremely regrettable.”

“We cannot accept the ruling. Does the judge mean to say that the perpetrator’s life is more precious than that of our daughter’s? We feel sorrow over the gap between the judicial decision and the sentiments of ordinary people,” they said in the statement.

The parents also said that Sakamoto never showed any signs of remorse or apology, and that he merely told lies in court to seek a lenient sentence. “It is regrettable that the court could not see that,” their statement added.

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