KITAKYUSHU - A Fukuoka common-law couple were sentenced to hang Wednesday for torturing and killing seven people who shared their dwelling between 1996 and 1998 in a case whose only evidence was the testimony provided by the accomplice and a woman who managed to escape the mayhem.
The Kokura branch of the Fukuoka District Court said Futoshi Matsunaga, 44, the mastermind, and his accomplice, Junko Ogata, 43, must hang for murdering five of Ogata’s relatives, including two children, and the escapee’s 34-year-old father.
The pair were also convicted of fatally injuring Ogata’s father, but the court ruled they had not intended to kill him.
Presiding Judge Toshinobu Wakamiya called the couple’s actions brutal and unprecedented. The court said the couple conspired to kill six of their victims, and Matsunaga was the mastermind and Ogata his willful executioner.
Matsunaga immediately appealed the sentence to a high court. Ogata’s lawyers said they would consult with her on whether to appeal.
The couple confined and assaulted their victims to extract money from them. When the money ran out or the pair feared they would be discovered, the victim was killed, and the corpse was dismembered and thrown into the sea, the court said, noting several of the victims were forced to borrow huge sums of money before they were slain.
Some of the victims were ordered to take part in the killings and dismembering of the bodies before they were murdered themselves, according to the court.
The couple tried to destroy all traces of the crimes. Because police found no physical evidence, including the victims’ bodies, the prosecutors’ case was based on testimony from Ogata and a 21-year-old woman who escaped from the pair’s apartment, where she had been held captive and tortured with electric shocks.
The court deemed the two women’s statements and court testimony as reliable. Ogata “spoke candidly and in concrete terms, including facts that were disadvantageous for her,” Judge Wakamiya said.
The murders came to light in March 2002 when the woman, then a teen, escaped and alerted police. Her father was one of the victims.
Throughout the trial, Matsunaga denied having committed murder, claiming he only abused the victims because he did not like their attitude and did not intend to kill them because they were his “money trees.” He insisted that Ogata committed the murders on her own.
Ogata basically owned up to the charges during the trial, which started in May 2003. But her attorneys had asked the court to spare her life.
Ogata claimed Matsunaga abused and manipulated her into a physical and mental state in which she had no choice but to obey his orders.
During a court session in March, prosecutors called Matsunaga “the mastermind who lost his sense of right and wrong,” while Ogata was “a loyal executor of (his) instructions.”
The couple’s relationship was a necessary element of the crimes, like “two sets of wheels,” the prosecutors said in a statement, adding that the murders were deeply connected with “Matsunaga’s abnormal desire for money and his self-centered nature, which caused him not to care if others were destroyed.”
The couple began their relationship in 1982, and in February 1985, Ogata left her parents’ home in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, to live with Matsunaga. Matsunaga and Ogata moved into an apartment in Kitakyushu with the teenage girl and her father in October 1994.
In February 1996, the 34-year-old father died from repeated physical abuse.
The following year, six members of Ogata’s family — her parents, Takashige and Shizumi, her sister, Rieko, and her brother-in-law, Kazuya, and their two children, Aya and Yuki — were forced to live with the couple in the Kitakyushu apartment.
All six were slain between December 1997 and June 1998.
Takashige, 61, was electrocuted in December 1997. Shizumi, 58, Rieko, 33, and Yuki, 5, were strangled between January and May 1998, while Kazuya, 38, died in April 1998 from physical abuse. Prosecutors were unable to establish whether Aya, 10, who was killed in June 1998, was electrocuted or strangled.
The death sentence was what prosecutors had demanded.