• Kyodo, Staff Report


The Tokyo High Court on Thursday began hearing an appeal against a lower court ruling convicting a man of the murder of a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl in 2017, with prosecutors calling for a death sentence and the accused seeking acquittal.

Yasumasa Shibuya, the 48-year-old former head of a parents group at an elementary school in the city of Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, pleaded not guilty at the first hearing of the appeal trial over the death of Le Thi Nhat Linh, who was a third grader at the school.

In July last year, the Chiba District Court sentenced him to life in prison for abducting the girl into his vehicle, sexually assaulting her and strangling her before abandoning her body.

“If Linh were still alive, she would have been a sixth-grader. She could have made various plans for her future,” Le Anh Hao, the girl’s 37-year-old father, said before the start of the trial.

He has collected signatures from 1.34 million people seeking the death penalty for Shibuya.

After the hearing on Thursday, Le Anh Hao told a news conference in Tokyo that he was hoping for justice and a ruling in favor of capital punishment.

“I just hope the court will give a death penalty ruling soon,” he said.

Lamenting that he hasn’t yet received an apology from Shibuya, he said he could not accept the defendant’s claims of his innocence and thus could not accept the life imprisonment ruling from the lower court. He called for the judges to take into account inconsistency in Shibuya’s testimony, including claims concerning health issues that he believes could have left the jury unsure, potentially leading to a milder sentence.

“Put yourself in my position. If Yasumasa Shibuya kidnapped your child, would you forgive him?” he said.

He said the prolonged trial has added to his suffering. The trial is expected to continue until at least February, as the next hearings are scheduled for Nov. 29 and Jan. 31.

The father said the loss of his child was devastating for him and his wife.

“The memories are most painful when I’m commuting to work and I see Linh’s friends on their way to school. I keep asking myself: ‘Why can’t she be there anymore? Why did this all have to happen to her?'” he said. “I just don’t know what to do.”

The Mutsumi No. 2 Elementary School student went missing on March 24, 2017, and was found dead near a drainage ditch in the city of Abiko two days later. Shibuya was arrested the following month.

The district court convicted Shibuya on the grounds that DNA matching his was found on the victim’s body and that DNA in blood found in his vehicle matched the girl’s.

The defense argued that the DNA evidence might have been forged or contaminated.

In handing down a sentence of life in prison rather than the death penalty, the court said the murder was not premeditated.

Both the prosecutors and the defense appealed the ruling.

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