NAGASAKI – Experts were divided over Monday’s family court decision to send a 16-year-old girl, who last summer killed her classmate in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, to a medical reformatory instead of sending her back to prosecutors so that she could be criminally indicted and sent to prison.
According to the Nagasaki Family Court’s decision, the girl strangled her female classmate, mutilated her body and then stole several thousand yen in cash on July 26 last year. She had earlier attempted to kill her father by hitting him over the head with a metal baseball bat in March of last year.
Prosecutors had demanded that the family court return the girl to them, so that she could be criminally indicted. The bereaved family had also called for severe punishment.
But the court said criminal punishment would not prevent her from committing another crime.
It condemned the case as “a murder for pleasure” and noted that the girl still has a desire to murder. But it pinned hopes on the possibility that the girl — who suffers from a severe autistic spectrum disorder and conduct disorder — can be cured through long-term correctional education and medical assistance.
Kenji Takeuchi, associate professor of juvenile law at Kyushu University’s Graduate School, agrees.
“In prison, it is difficult to offer sufficient care in terms of psychiatric treatment. Long-term imprisonment is also harmful and may make it difficult (for the girl) to readjust to society,” Takeuchi said.
A medical reformatory seeks to correct juveniles suffering from serious mental or physical disorders through the assistance of mental health professionals, according to the Justice Ministry. Information about the girl will only be shared among relevant team members in the hopes that she will be able to return to society smoothly sometime in the future.
But some experts doubt the effectiveness of the reformatory facility because it can only accommodate those aged up to 26 years old. Others simply claim that a harsher punishment would have been better.
“Harsher punishment (is effective to society) where many juvenile delinquents are well-versed in the details of juvenile law,” said Masahide Maeda, professor of criminal law at Nihon University’s Law School. “A stricter attitude, in part, will prevent delinquencies.”
But in the Sasebo case, the court appears to have taken the girl’s abnormalities into account.
In handing down the decision, presiding Judge Kenichiro Hirai said that the girl committed the murder a few days before her birthday, knowing that she would become eligible for criminal indictment once she turned 16.
Hirai, however, said that the girl has a tendency to be aggressive toward others and lacks empathy.
Her case was “unusually peculiar” in that she could not develop feelings of anxiety and horror like ordinary people and carried out without hesitation what she had decided to do, he said.
He also concluded that the girl, unable to satisfy her desire by killing cats, became tempted to murder someone after entering junior high school and ended up failing to control that feeling.
With long-term correctional education and medical support, there is a possibility that she can be cured, while “criminal punishment will not have any deterrent effect and imprisonment could only worsen her symptoms,” Hirai said, citing her apology as a sign that she may change.
During a court session on Friday, the girl said: “Because of me, she no longer has a future. My feelings of apology have become stronger.”
According to the court and other sources, the girl started killing cats when she was in the fifth grade of elementary school. She also tampered with the lunch of two classmates when she was a sixth grader.
After the girl was arrested on July 27 last year on suspicion of killing her classmate at an apartment in Sasebo, where the girl lived by herself, the girl’s father committed suicide last October. Her birth mother died in 2013.
When the decision was handed down, the victim’s father, who was in the courtroom and carrying a picture of his daughter in his pocket, began to wail in his seat, according to his lawyer, triggering tears from other court officials.
“That was not the decision I had expected. I can’t accept it,” the father was quoted as saying by his lawyer. “I want her to continue apologizing to my daughter for the rest of her life.”
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