National / Crime & Legal

Takefuji arsonist, ex-yakuza hanged for eight murders

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Mitsuhiro Kobayashi, the man who burned five Takefuji employees to death in a failed robbery in 2001, was hanged in Sendai on Friday, while a former yakuza convicted of shooting three people to death from 2001 to 2005 was executed in Tokyo.

The executions were the 10th and 11th signed by Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki since he took the post in December 2012.

Kobayashi, 56, killed the five employees after walking into the Aomori branch of the nonbank consumer lender with the intention of robbing it to pay off his debts. Upon learning the staff had called the police, he poured gasoline around the office and set it ablaze, keenly aware it would kill some of them, the Justice Ministry said in a statement released Friday. Four others were severely injured by the blaze.

Kobayashi’s death sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in 2007.

The other inmate was former yakuza Tsutomu Takamizawa, 59, who shot three people to death on three occasions between 2001 and 2005. He carried out each killing with his yakuza underlings, who helped him bury two of the bodies. His sentence was finalized in 2012.

Friday’s executions reduced the number of death-row inmates to 126. Of those, 89 are seeking retrials and another 25 have petitioned for amnesty.

Following precedent, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki read out a carefully scripted text after the executions to emphasize the “brutal” and “selfish” nature of the men’s crimes. He also repeated that he carefully considered their cases before authorizing the hangings.

Death-row inmates are customarily kept in the dark about when their executions will take place. It isn’t until just a few hours beforehand that they are notified of their impending fate.

Tanigaki on Friday claimed the custom is necessary to “keep the inmates emotionally stable.”

Human rights groups quickly protested the hangings.

“The executions represent Japan’s ‘challenge’ to the global society, which is moving fast toward abolishing capital punishment,” said human rights group Amnesty International.

Noting that rumors have Tanigaki leaving the Cabinet in the reshuffle slated for Sept. 3, Amnesty said: “Tanigaki ordered the executions of these two men as his last duty as (justice minister).”

In past news conferences following executions, Tanigaki defended the advisability of capital punishment, citing high public support for it.

Global concerns are rising over Japan’s continued use of the death penalty. Japan and the United States remain the only two members of G-8 industrialized countries that retain the practice.