• Kyodo


The Kobe District Court sentenced a mob boss to 20 years in prison Thursday for murdering a graduate student here in 2002.

Takayuki Sato, 41, and five members of his gang abducted Kuniaki Uranaka, then a 27-year-old student of the Kobe University of Mercantile Marine graduate school, from a street in Nishi Ward by car in the early hours of March 4, 2002. They punched and kicked him and left him to die by a river.

Prosecutors had requested a life sentence for the murder.

The five gangsters were sentenced to between 10 and 14 years in prison.

Kyoko Tani, 38, was charged with complicity by calling the five members to the scene. She received a three-year prison term, suspended for four years.

During the trial, Sato and the other gang members denied they had intended to kill Uranaka. Tani pleaded innocent, claiming she did not lay a hand on the student.

Presiding Judge Akiyoshi Sasano ruled that there was intent to kill, noting that the defendants “repeatedly and violently beat the victim.”

But he did not sentence Sato to life imprisonment because he said the intent could not be determined to be definite.

The incident drew wide attention following public criticism of the sloppy handling of the case by police.

Uranaka was abducted after he and a friend got involved in a quarrel with one of the gangsters and Tani over a parking space. Tani called the gangsters, who began beating up the two men.

Police were called to the scene and rescued Uranaka’s friend, who sustained minor injuries. The friend told police that Uranaka had been abducted by the attackers, but the officers simply left, and did not immediately mobilize a search for the student.

On Thursday, Judge Sasano criticized the police for failing to take appropriate measures.

“The officers were only at the scene for a brief period of time, and there was a slipshod side” to their actions, he said.

But he said their inaction did not reduce the criminal responsibility of the defendants in any way. “The fear and pain experienced by the victim is beyond imagination,” he said.

Hyogo Prefectural Police punished 10 officers over the incident, including the then head of Kobe Nishi Police Station.

Uranaka’s mother, 63, has filed a damages suit against the prefectural government, which has jurisdiction over the local police force. The civil suit is to conclude next month.

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