National

Brutal killers' missives find outlet

Publisher believes public should know what makes these death-row inmates tick

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo News

The books and memorandums Hiroyuki Shinoda, 56, has published were not penned by the conventional writer, but instead are the works of death-row inmates.

Faced with criticism that perpetrators of heinous crimes should not be given a public platform, Shinoda, who heads Tsukuru Publishing Co., believes society should understand why people commit terrible crimes.

“I believe it’s necessary to record their voices to find out their motives and the backgrounds of their crimes,” Shinoda said.

His new book, “Death Row Inmates,” will be published by Chikuma Shobo Publishing Co. in early August.

The book contains letters to Shinoda from various inmates, including Tsutomu Miyazaki, who was hanged June 17 at age 45 for the kidnap-murders of four young girls in the late 1980s; Kaoru Kobayashi, who was convicted of kidnapping and killing a girl in Nara Prefecture in 2004; and Mamoru Takuma, who was hanged in 2004 at age 40 for massacring eight children and wounding 15 people in 2001 at an elementary school in Osaka Prefecture.

The Tokyo-based publisher exchanged more than 300 letters with Miyazaki during the past 12 years and ran dozens of memorandums from the serial killer in his monthly magazine The Tsukuru (To Create) and published two books by Miyazaki.

Many of the writings of Miyazaki, who mutilated his victims, including one whose dismembered corpse he placed in a box outside her home, were incomprehensible.

In one letter addressed to Shinoda, Miyazaki noted how he tried to find a comfortable sitting position when the Tokyo District Court sentenced him to hang in 1997.

When the Tokyo High Court upheld the sentence in 2001, a court spectator shouted at the killer: “Drop dead now, bastard!”

But he wrote to Shinoda later, “I wasn’t aware of this because I was sleeping. . . . I became sleepy on the day, as usual, and I dozed off after the trial session started.”

Shinoda said publishing the thoughts of people waiting for the gallows is significant if only for the sake of psychiatric research.

Different evaluations on Miyazaki’s mental state were presented in court. One psychiatrist found him mentally competent but suffering a personality disorder; another partly denied Miyazaki was mentally competent.

The Supreme Court determined in 2006 that he had an extreme personality disorder but was mentally competent at the time of his crimes and thus could be held liable.

“Miyazaki could have provided more clues to throw light on what prompted him to commit such crimes and to enable society to mull preventive measures,” Shinoda said. “But the state just terminated him physically. It clearly shows that the current judicial system is unable to effectively cope with inexplicable crimes.”

Shinoda’s upcoming book looks at Kaoru Kobayashi, who was condemned for kidnapping and killing a 7-year-old girl in Nara Prefecture in 2004.

In a memorandum issued in The Tsukuru in 2006, Kobayashi, 39, denied intending to kill her, contrary to his admission in court. He said he had given her a narcotic so he could sexually abuse her. As a result, she drowned in his bathtub.

He also said he had cruelly mutilated the girl’s corpse and sent her photo and a threatening message to her mother via the girl’s mobile phone with the full realization his actions would mean he would get the death penalty.

“The girl died anyway, and her parents and I expect nothing but the death sentence even if the punishment is commutable” by the court’s recognition that she died accidentally, Kobayashi wrote in a letter to Shinoda. “So, I’m not thinking anymore about telling the truth in court.”

Kobayashi’s sentence has been finalized. How the girl actually died remains a mystery, Shinoda said.

When they met, he recommended that Kobayashi apologize to the girl’s parents, but he declined, writing in a letter, “I had a terrible attitude and gave the judges an unfavorable impression,” so they would hand down the death sentence.

“It is said the death penalty serves as a deterrent to vicious crimes,” Shinoda said. “However, it didn’t deter Kobayashi. He wanted to die, as he was alienated from his family and society. He instead escalated his cruel acts once he realized he could receive the death penalty.”

Looking back on his activities as an editor, Shinoda said, “It’s not a profitable business to publish the memorandums of criminals, maybe because people are reluctant to hear what they have to say.”

But people must prepare to listen to the voices of defendants in court before the lay judge system starts next year, Shinoda suggested.

In his upcoming book, Shinoda also presents letters by Takuma, who was fast-tracked to the gallows in 2004 after refusing to appeal his sentence. The letters were sent to his lawyer and to his wife.

Takuma killed hoping for immediate execution, making Shinoda wonder whether hanging him or Kobayashi, who also wants to die, actually serves as punishment.

“What does it mean for criminals to pay for their crimes?” he asked. “I think it’s a kind of mind freeze if people consider the death penalty as the only effective and heavy punishment at a time when Japan is seeing many criminals whose motives are not fully explained.”

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