• Kyodo

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Two men were convicted Friday for intimidating lay judges involved in the trial of a senior member of a crime syndicate based in southwestern Japan but were allowed to walk free because their sentences were suspended.

In the first such ruling since the nation’s lay judge system was introduced in 2009, the Fukuoka District Court sentenced Toshimi Kusumoto, a former member of the Kudo-kai crime syndicate, to nine months in prison and Kimikazu Nakamura, a company employee and former classmate of the senior yakuza, to a year in prison.

But both sentences were suspended for three years.

Kusumoto and Nakamura, both 41 years old, approached the two lay judges in the trial and made comments to pressure them into favoring the defendant.

Presiding Judge Masato Nakata said in handing down the ruling that the acts of the two were “vicious as they had given a deep sense of fear to the judges,” adding, “the severity of harming the legitimacy of their duties and damaging the fairness of a trial is huge.”

Citing the fact that many of the lay judges in the trial in question resigned after the incident and that the trial was discontinued under the lay judge system, Nakata said the two had caused serious consequences that could shake the foundations of the lay judge system.

According to the ruling, Kusumoto and Nakamura approached the two judges on a street near the Fukuoka District Court’s Kokura branch in Kitakyushu on May 10 after the first hearing of the trial of the senior yakuza member, who was indicted for trying to kill an acquaintance with a Japanese sword.

Kusumoto said to the lay judges, “Nothing I say will make a difference, right?” while Nakamura said, “I remember your faces” and “Thank you in advance,” according to the ruling.

The presiding judge said the prison term issued to Kusumoto was shorter than Nakamura’s because the court did not view his comment as a way to influence the judges’ decision.

The lay judge system, under which three professional and six lay judges hear serious criminal cases, including murders, started in 2009 to better reflect citizens’ views in criminal trials.

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