CHIBA – A court sentenced the former head of a parents’ group at an elementary school in Chiba Prefecture to life in prison Friday over the 2017 murder of a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl who attended the school.
While Yasumasa Shibuya has denied involvement in the death of Le Thi Nhat Linh, prosecutors had sought the death penalty for the 47-year-old neighbor and father of two.
“The shock and worry (the defendant) brought upon society and school education is unimaginable,” Presiding Judge Toshiro Nohara said in handing down the ruling.
But the court also rejected prosecutors’ call for the death penalty, saying the murder of Linh was no more cruel than other crimes of a similar nature for which culprits have been given life terms.
The lay judge trial’s focus had been on how credible the police DNA tests are and whether a death sentence can be given in a case that resulted in only one death.
The defense team appealed the ruling the same day.
The third-grade student at Mutsumi No. 2 Elementary School in Matsudo went missing on March 24 last year and was found dead near a drainage ditch in Abiko two days later.
Shibuya was arrested on April 14, 2017, and later indicted on suspicion of abducting Linh in his vehicle and sexually assaulting and strangling her before abandoning her body.
While prosecutors said Shibuya’s DNA was found on the girl’s body and that blood and saliva matching her DNA was found in Shibuya’s vehicle, defense lawyers claimed the DNA samples may have been planted by investigators.
During the lay judge trial, the prosecutors said Shibuya faces particularly serious blame given his position at the time as head of the parents’ group watching over children on their way to school. Linh’s father, Le Anh Hao, had requested the death penalty for Shibuya. Prior to the ruling, Shibuya said he intends to appeal if found guilty.
Since the launch of the lay judge system in Japan in 2009, there have been four district court rulings in which defendants have been sentenced to death in cases involving murder. But only one has been finalized, while the rest have been reduced to life terms by higher courts.