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Japan: Death penalty to stand for man over 2010 murder as minor

Execution chamber at Tokyo Detention Center
Execution chamber at Tokyo Detention Center
A death sentence given to a man convicted of murdering 2 women and seriously injuring another man in 2010 when he was 18 is set to be finalized after the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld lower court rulings.

The case of Yutaro Chiba, now 24, marks the 1st time capital punishment has been given to a minor under Japan's lay judge trial system that began in 2009.

In handing down the ruling, the top court's first petty bench said the defendant committed the crime based on a "very selfish motive" as he was determined to kill anyone who sabotaged his plan to run away with his former girlfriend.

According to rulings by the Sendai district and high courts, Chiba was guilty of stabbing to death his former girlfriend's older sister Misa Nambu, 20, and her 18-year-old friend Mikako Omori, and seriously injuring a man who was with them at the time of the crime on Feb. 10 in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

"Even if his age (as a minor) and having no criminal record is taken into account . . . his criminal responsibility is grave," the Supreme Court said, indicating that the death penalty cannot be avoided in line with the top court standards set in 1983 in the case of Norio Nagayama.

Chiba is the 7th person whose death penalty has effectively been finalized for a crime committed by a minor since the so-called Nagayama standard which, in applying capital punishment, took into account factors such as the number of victims, brutality and social impact of the crimes.

Nagayama was a death row inmate who was hanged in 1997 for killing 4 people when he was 19.

On Thursday, all 5 justices on the bench, presided by Justice Naoto Otani, unanimously rejected the appeal against Chiba's death sentence.

In terms of murders of 2 people for a person under 20 at the time of the crimes, Chiba will be the 2nd to be sentenced to death, following a man convicted of murdering a woman and her baby girl in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, when he was 18.

Outside court, Chiba's chief lawyer, Hiroyuki Kusaba, criticized the ruling as being unacceptable.

The court 'does not at all take into consideration how the defendant's environment affected his character, and also does not give any explanation about this," Kusaba said, referring to his client's difficult childhood.

According to court testimonies by Chiba, his mother, and others, Chiba was raised by his mother after his parents divorced when he was 5. His mother, who repeatedly divorced and remarried, suffered violence from her boyfriend and later became addicted to alcohol. He was then raised by his grandmother's side.

As demanded by prosecutors, a panel of three professional and 6 citizen judges gave the death penalty to Chiba at the district court in November 2010.

The court said it cannot just take into account his age when he committed the crime, given the brutality of the crime and the impact in terms of number of victims.

The Sendai High Court upheld the lower court's decision.

Chiba's lawyers had sought leniency for their client to avoid the death penalty, arguing he was "immature" at the time and that his crime was "not premeditated."

Source: The Japan Times, June 16, 2016

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