National / Crime & Legal

Burglar in Kyushu slayings hanged

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

A man on death row was executed Friday, just a month after the Japan Federation of Bar Associations called for an end to capital punishment.

According to the Justice Ministry, Kenichi Tajiri, 45, who was convicted in 2012 of two murder-robbery cases, was hanged in the morning at a prison in Fukuoka Prefecture.

In the first execution since two prisoners were sent to the gallows in March, Friday’s hanging was the second based on the verdict of a lay judge trial.

Tajiri was convicted of breaking into a residence in Kumamoto Prefecture in March 2004 with the intention to rob and kill a 49-year-old woman. He was also found guilty of burglarizing another resident, a 65-year-old woman, in February 2011 and stabbing her to death, then seriously injuring a 72-year-old man who returned to the house later.

Tajiri’s death sentence, upheld by the Fukuoka High Court, was finalized before it reached the Supreme Court because he reportedly withdrew his appeal.

“The death penalty is given to perpetrators of extremely heinous, grave crimes after the case is carefully considered in the courts,” said Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, who signed the execution order.

It was the first execution since Kaneda, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, took over as justice minister in August.

Seventeen prisoners have been hanged since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office for the second time in 2012.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations on Oct. 7 issued a declaration seeking the abolition of capital punishment by 2020. It suggests that it be replaced with life imprisonment, a change that would bring Japan into line with most other developed nations.

Of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, only Japan and the United States retain the death penalty, though it is growing less popular in the U.S.

While acknowledging the bar association’s statement, “I believe it is not reasonable to abolish capital punishment,” given that many people in Japan believe that perpetrators of heinous crimes such as murder deserve to be hanged, Kaneda said.

After Friday’s hanging was announced, Amnesty International Japan condemned the government, saying a legal system that allows lower courts to sentence someone to death without going through the Supreme Court is “disregarding the lives of its own people.”

“This execution goes against the global trend toward abolishing capital punishment,” the human rights group said. “The Japanese government’s stance to faithlessly retain the death penalty despite much advice given by international organizations may indicate that Japan is challenging international society.”

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers who support crime victims said Friday that not all attorneys oppose the death penalty.

“Capital punishment is given only when the court has judged the crime as extremely heinous after deliberating it from different angles,” the group said. “It poses no legal problem to execute someone who committed such a heavy crime after going through a rigorous legal process. We hope the death penalty will continue to be carried out steadily.”

After Friday’s hanging, there are now 129 death row inmates in Japan, according to the Justice Ministry.

They include Iwao Hakamada, who was sentenced to death in 1968 and is still considered technically on death row even he was freed in 2014 after a court suggested that the evidence used in his trial could have been fabricated by investigators.