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The Nagoya District Court gave suspended sentences Friday to four prison guards and cleared another man of two assaults on inmates at Nagoya Prison in 2002 that killed one man and left the other seriously injured.

Presiding Judge Osamu Ito ruled that the guards illegally used a restraining device, comprised of a leather belt and handcuffs, to punish the prisoners, when it was only to be used to restrain violent inmates. Ito rejected defense claims that the guards were only doing their jobs.

Akihiko Maeda, 45, a deputy chief guard, was handed a suspended three-year sentence. Takashi Watanabe, 39, and Hiroki Ozawa, 31, both received suspended two-year terms, and Hajime Ikeda, 34, got a suspended one-year sentence.

Judge Ito ruled the fifth guard, Takao Sato, 29, was not guilty of the charges, saying he “joined the others most likely believing he was conducting official duties.”

All five men, who have been relieved of their duties, had pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors had demanded prison terms of up to five years for each of them.

The four men found guilty will appeal the decision, their lawyers said.

The injured inmate, Hideki Yamashita, 34, who is no longer in prison, said he was unhappy because the guards won’t have to serve time and vowed to urge prosecutors to appeal. However, Yamashita said he was still grateful that the court “recognized the seriousness of the incidents.”

The sister of the 49-year-old man who was killed was quoted through her lawyer as saying, “My brother was deprived of his future, but the guards will have a future because their jail terms were suspended.”

The defendants had been charged with assault and cruelty under Penal Code Article 195, for using the restraining device to punish the prisoners in two separate incidents in 2002.

The belts were tightened around the men’s abdomens and they were left in solitary confinement. The 49-year-old prisoner was forced into the device and later died of a heart attack in solitary in May 2002, and Yamashita’s experience in September of the same year left him with severe internal bleeding.

The prosecutors had argued that the guards had tightened the belts too much, which damaged the mesentery, the membrane that connects the small intestine to the back wall of the abdominal cavity.

Three other guards at Nagoya Prison were also convicted and handed suspended sentences for another assault on an inmate.

One of the three men, convicted in March 2004, did not appeal. The two others appealed but were found guilty in November 2005.

All were convicted of aiming a fire hose at an inmate’s bare buttocks in December 2001 at Nagoya Prison. The abuse seriously injured the man’s rectum and anus, and he died of bacterial shock the next day.

The fatal assaults in Nagoya Prison led to legal revisions in 2006 on the treatment of prisoners, the first changes to the Prison Law since it was enacted in 1908. The changes include a clause saying inmates’ human rights must be respected and they are to be given rehabilitation to prevent them from committing more offenses when they are released.

Defense lawyers had argued that tightening the belt would not damage the mesentery and claimed the defendants used the device as part of their official duties.

However, Judge Ito ruled that medical analyses and witnesses’ testimony proved the tightening of the belt was the cause of the death and injuries.

He also said the device was widely used by guards to punish the inmates “because the prison did not have strict guidelines on its use,” and blamed senior officials of the prison for not trying to stop the practice even though they were aware of the situation.

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