National / Crime & Legal

Three murderers sent to the gallows

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Three death-row inmates were hanged Thursday, in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, the first executions carried out under the new Liberal Democratic Party-led government.

According to the Justice Ministry, the three were Kaoru Kobayashi, 44, who kidnapped and killed a 7-year-old girl; Masahiro Kanagawa, 29, who went on a stabbing spree in Ibaraki Prefecture; and Keiki Kano, 62, who robbed and killed a bar owner.

Kobayashi, a repeat sex offender, was executed in Osaka for the murder of a 7-year-old girl he abducted while she was on her way home from school in Nara Prefecture in November 2004. He molested her before drowning her in his bathtub. After attempting to have sex with the body, he mutilated it by pulling out 10 of the girl’s teeth. The newspaper deliveryman also threatened the girl’s parents, claiming he would come after the girl’s younger sister and emailing a photo of their daughter’s corpse.

Kobayashi’s death sentence in 2006 was rare considering there was only one murder victim. But the Nara District Court ruled there were no extenuating circumstances to consider.

Kanagawa was hanged at the Tokyo Detention House for going on a stabbing spree outside a shopping mall in Tsuchiura, killing one and wounding seven in March 2008. He was also found guilty of a separate murder a few days before. After the arrest, he was quoted as saying that he “wanted to kill many people to be sentenced to death” and that it didn’t matter who they were.

Kano, formerly known as Keiki Muto, was hanged in Nagoya for the robbery-murder of a 61-year-old bar owner, whom he strangled and took ¥8,000 from in 2002. His original sentence of life imprisonment was later reversed and he was sentenced to death.

“All of these cases were extremely brutal — the precious lives of the victims were robbed for very selfish reasons,” Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said at a hastily arranged news conference following the executions Thursday morning. “Naturally, the courts ultimately handed down death sentences for the cases after thorough consideration. I decided to order the executions after carefully going over all of the various aspects.”

Even as much of the world turns away from the death penalty, Tanigaki made clear he has no intention for now of reviewing the system. He insisted any debate over capital punishment should be based on Japan’s “domestic situation,” including public sentiment and maintaining public order, rather than movements beyond Japan’s borders.

“I am aware that there have been various debates over the death penalty, whether people are for or against it. But our nation has maintained this system from the viewpoint of deterrence, and the sentiment of the victims’ families,” Tanigaki said. “If there are problems, we must make improvements.”

Before the trio were executed, there were 137 people on death row, an all-time high.

According to Amnesty International Japan, 140 nations have abolished capital punishment by law or in practice. Japan and the United States are the only two Group of Eight member states to keep the system. However, Hideki Wakabayashi, the executive director of AIJ, noted that U.S. states in general are moving toward either abolishing the death penalty or calling a moratorium on it.

“Japan is the only country that is in total isolation with no discussions on the death penalty moving forward. . . . (Thursday’s executions) ignore the international trend toward abolishing the death penalty. Japan needs to balance diplomacy as well as human rights issues as a responsible member of the international community,” Wakabayashi told The Japan Times.