• Kyodo

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Is the 21-year-old man who killed two children in 1997 when he was 14 truly “rehabilitated,” as stated by the Justice Ministry?

While doubt still lingers among the relatives of the victims murdered by the man, who was released on parole from a medical reformatory last week, sources who watched him during the rehabilitation process testify he gradually changed until he finally came to pledge that he would “continue to atone” for his crimes all his life.

When he was admitted to the Kanto Medical Juvenile Reformatory in fall 1997, he told people around him that the real world consists of “fighting and destruction” and that “the strong are allowed to kill the weak,” the sources said.

At that time, he was diagnosed as suffering from “sexual sadism” in which he felt sexual excitement only by imagining violent scenes.

He was in his third year in junior high school when he committed the two murders and injured three other children in Kobe in 1997.

That March, he killed 10-year-old Ayaka Yamashita and attacked three other schoolgirls around the same time. In May, he killed and then decapitated 11-year-old Jun Hase, leaving the victim’s head outside a school gate.

Following his arrest later that year, the killer, who could not be criminally tried because of his age, was sent to the medical reformatory in October 1997 to receive psychiatric treatment and counseling.

The reformatory compiled a detailed rehabilitation program that would take years to complete, under which a team of doctors and teachers patiently tried to have him “realize the gravity of responsibility as a human being,” the sources said.

Toward that goal, members of the team had the man grow plants and write his personal history, while guiding him on how he could make amends for his crimes, they said.

Initially, he was given a single room with a surveillance camera to prevent suicide. He never smiled, and two years into the rehabilitation program he complained that his face was “melting,” or that he saw himself “being destroyed,” the sources said.

But after this phase, his facial expressions started to change for the better, and he began to open his heart to members of the rehabilitation team as if they were his family, the sources said.

The man remarked that he “wants to live in society in the company of warm-hearted people” and voluntarily moved to a room without a video monitor, saying he would try to “keep watch over myself,” they said.

In 2001, he was transferred to an ordinary reformatory, where his identity was kept secret and he led a group life with other juvenile residents.

The other residents sometimes bullied him and spat on him, but he gradually made some friends and began to smile when he greeted the others — an apparent sign that he was starting to come to grips with human interaction, the sources said.

At the same time, he continued for years to have troubled relations with his parents, they said.

In May 2002, he reportedly told his mother, “No way,” when the mother asked him if he really had been arrested for crimes he never committed. Following the meeting with the mother, the man said he was shocked that she had not understood how he had agonized over his crimes for five years, the sources said.

According to the sources, the parents were having difficulty accepting the 1997 diagnosis that their son suffers from sexual sadism, and they were long unable to accept that he perpetrated the crimes.

But their attitude changed after the May 2002 meeting, the sources said. In turn, the man was moved by his parents’ attempts to apologize to the families of the victims, and sent the parents a letter, expressing thanks for “giving birth to me,” the sources said.

In spring 2003, the father met his son and asked him how he would atone for his crimes. Earlier, the man was thrown into panic and severe agony when he read notes written by the victims’ families, but this time he clearly pledged, “I am determined to atone as much as I can for the rest of my life,” according to the sources.

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