The Supreme Court has ordered two defense lawyers to attend an April 18 session on an appeal by prosecutors seeking the death penalty for a man sentenced a man to life for killing a woman and her 11-month-old daughter in 1999, court sources said Friday.

The four-judge No. 3 Petty Bench of the top court issued the order Wednesday, one day after defense attorneys Yoshihiro Yasuda and Shuichi Adachi angered relatives of the victims by skipping a session.

The two lawyers faxed the court claiming they could not attend because they needed more time to prepare and because they were busy with previously scheduled events organized by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

The Supreme Court was not able to start Tuesday’s session due to the lawyers’ absence.

Justice Kunio Hamada, who presided over the session, expressed “extreme regret” over the lawyers’ absence in open court, saying there was no justifiable reason for it.

Prosecutors accused the defense counsel of deliberately delaying the proceedings.

The victims’ kin demanded that the Tokyo and Hiroshima bar associations, to which Yasuda and Adachi respectively belong, punish the attorneys.

This was the first time a court has ordered lawyers to appear at such a session under a 2005 revision to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which authorizes courts to order prosecutors and defense lawyers to attend court and remain at hearings. The revised code provides for a fine of up to 100,000 yen for any prosecutor or counsel who fails to follow such an order without due cause.

The trial involves a 25-year-old man who was an 18-year-old at the time of the crime. The Yamaguchi District Court sentenced him to life in prison in March 2000, a decision upheld by the Hiroshima High Court in March 2002. Prosecutors filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, seeking the death penalty.

The man, whose name is being withheld because he was a minor when the slayings were committed, was convicted of breaking into the condominium of a Nippon Steel Corp. employee in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on April 14, 1999. He strangled the man’s wife, 23, and 11-month-old daughter.

Because the Supreme Court usually only examines the documents of a case in such appeals, the decision to hold a session suggests the court may reverse the lower courts’ decision, legal experts say.

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