In a review of the book "Shikei de Ii desu" ("The Death Sentence Is OK With Me") that appears in the Feb. 26 issue of Kinyobi, critic Tatsunori Yagashiwa asks if a society that "disregards illness" can properly judge criminal suspects.

The book, written by Kyodo News reporter Takashi Iketani, chronicles the case of Yukio Yamaji, who was executed last July at the age of 25 for the rape and murder of a 27-year-old woman and her 19-year-old sister in 2005. In 2000, Yamaji killed his own mother, but because he was a minor, he was sent to a juvenile rehabilitation facility.

Yamaji was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome while in the facility. Technically not an "illness," AS is an autism spectrum disorder characterized by abnormalities in social interaction and communication. Most AS individuals lead relatively normal lives, though many have problems with social adjustment and independent living. During Yamaji's trial for the murders of the two women, his defense team brought up his AS diagnosis, which was never mentioned in the media coverage of the case. The judge, however, accepted expert testimony saying that the defendant was mentally competent. Eventually, Yamaji decided not to appeal his death sentence, thus providing the book with its chilling title. One of the reasons the judge gave for the sentence was that Yamaji did not "reflect on his crime." The implication is that had he shown proper remorse, he might have received a lighter sentence. One of the prime traits of people with AS is a demonstrable lack of empathy, an inability to recognize an interlocutor's feelings or reactions. This is not to say that Yamaji did not understand the gravity of his crime, only that he didn't act the way we expect such people to act. Some people involved in the case were put off by his habit of "smirking," which they took to mean a lack of sincerity.