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The Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence handed down by lower courts to Tsutomu Miyazaki, 43, who was charged with kidnapping and murdering four young girls in Saitama Prefecture and Tokyo 17 years ago. The highest court concluded that the original judgment recognizing Miyazaki’s legal competence was appropriate.

It was a case that sent shock waves throughout Japanese society and gave rise to the term “otaku” (freak or nerd). With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the court debate about whether Miyazaki should be held criminally responsible has come to an end. But despite the fact that the court case lasted 16 years, the mystery of Miyazaki’s dark mind remains.

The case thus leaves behind a weighty question: How can similar crimes be prevented? Experts in various related fields, including psychiatry and criminal policy, must now take on the difficult task of carrying out a detailed analysis of the case and coming up with proposals for effective preventive measures.

The series of four murders — three in Saitama Prefecture and one in Tokyo — occurred in 1988 and 1989. Miyazaki was accused of enticing young girls, aged 4 to 7, into his car and murdering them. His abnormal behavior, such as sending a letter admitting to the crime under a false name and leaving the remains of one victim in a box outside her home, shocked the nation. During the first two court trials, Miyazaki appeared completely disinterested in the proceedings, making incomprehensible statements such as “A rat man appeared, and before I knew it, the girl had fallen.”

As for motivation, he explained that the girls were sacrificed so that his grandfather would come back to life. He never apologized to the bereaved families.

In the court of final appeal, the focal point was the mental condition of Miyazaki at the time of the crimes. The Criminal Code stipulates that people with mental incapacity, meaning the inability to tell right from wrong because of a mental disorder, should not be punished, and people considered feeble-minded — or having a strikingly diminished capacity to tell right from wrong because of a mental disorder — should have their punishment reduced. For this reason, the deliberations focused on whether Miyazaki was legally competent.

In the first two court trials, statements by the prosecution and defense were on opposite sides of the fence. The prosecution argued that Miyazaki was legally competent, while the defense countered that he was not legally competent because he suffered from “integration dysfunction syndrome.”

The situation was aggravated by the inconsistency of conclusions drawn from three psychiatric examinations conducted during the first trial. In the first examination, it was concluded that although Miyazaki had an “extremely unbalanced personality” he could tell right from wrong and was fully competent. In the following two examinations, the opinions of the three examiners suggested “integration dysfunction syndrome” on one hand and “multiple personality disorder” on the other. They did agree that Miyazaki’s competence was limited.

While it did not discuss the examinations in detail, the Supreme Court, as a result of its “investigations of the records,” recognized Miyazaki’s competence and, as in the second trial, appears to have supported the first psychiatric examination.

As the principal motivations for the crimes, the Supreme Court recognized “sexual desire,” as manifested by Miyazaki’s desire to touch females, and a “collection mania” that compelled Miyazaki to possess his own collection of videotapes showing dead bodies and so on. As the Supreme Court’s ruling stated, these atrocious crimes were self-centered. Yet it seems likely that conflicting debate will continue over whether the Supreme Court made the right decision.

Child pornography is spreading via the Internet and other means. If images of young girls do, in fact, stimulate and lead to crime, then it could become necessary to impose tough regulations against its distribution while giving due consideration to freedom of expression.

Three recent murders of young girls — a case in Hiroshima in November followed by similar ones in Tochigi and Kyoto Prefectures in December — have deepened concern for children’s safety. Therefore, it is especially worrying that, 16 years after Miyazaki was arraigned, society has not yet learned convincing lessons for working out effective measures to prevent such crimes.

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