Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

90-year-old triple murderer, reportedly Japan's oldest on death row, dies of suffocation

TOKYO - A 90-year-old triple murderer, reportedly Japan's oldest death row prisoner, has died from suffocation at a prison in Fukuoka Prefecture, the government said Monday.

Takeshige Hamada was convicted of killing three people in the prefecture for insurance money over a two-year period from 1978.

According to the government, he was not breathing when found lying on the floor of his cell around 12:50 a.m., and showed signs of vomiting.

He was taken to hospital but pronounced dead around 2 a.m.

Accused 'black widow' serial killer claims innocence

A 70-year-old woman, dubbed the "black widow" after she was accused of murdering her husband and common law partners with cyanide, claimed her innocence Monday at the first hearing of her trial at the Kyoto District Court.

"I entirely entrust the matter to my lawyers," Chisako Kakehi told the court. The defense team denied the charges of murder and attempted murder-robbery involving four elderly men, adding that she is currently suffering from dementia and cannot defend herself.

Prosecutors aim to use circumstantial evidence to prove Kakehi's guilty amid a dearth of physical evidence and more than 50 people are expected to be summoned as witnesses during the trial, which is likely to last until Nov 7.

Kakehi admitted during investigations to having used cyanide capsules to poison the four victims, but her defense team later withdrew the admission in order that she could plead not guilty.

More than 10 men romantically involved with or associated with Kakehi are known to have died, enabling her to inherit an estimated 1 billion yen ($8.98 million) in total, investigative sources said.

According to the indictment, Kakehi murdered her 75-year-old husband Isao as well as common-law partners Masanori Honda, 71, and Minoru Hioki, 75, and tried to kill acquaintance Toshiaki Suehiro, 79, by having them drink cyanide between 2007 and 2013.

At the hearing presided by Judge Ayako Nakagawa, prosecutors claimed that she committed the crimes for the purpose of inheriting the victims' wealth, saying she had once called a business to open a victim's coffin the day after his death.

"The victims in the four cases are all elderly men and died from potassium cyanide poisoning. Their conditions and cause of deaths are so similar," the prosecutors said.

The prosecutors did not clarify how she obtained the cyanide.

Kakehi was first arrested in November 2014 and indicted the following month on a charge of killing Isao, who died at the couple's home in Muko, Kyoto Prefecture, in December 2013. They had married the previous month. She was later indicated in connection with the deaths of the three other men.

Kakehi, a native of Fukuoka Prefecture, married first at the age of 24 and launched a fabric printing factory in Osaka Prefecture with her first husband. But following his death in around 1994, the factory went bankrupt and her house was put up for auction forcing her to tearfully ask neighbors for a loan.

She later registered with a matchmaking service, specifically asking to meet wealthy men with an annual income of more than 10 million yen.

Despite her assets being worth over 1 billion yen, she later ended up in debt following her attempts to speculate in stocks and futures trading.

Major points of contention in the trial are whether the victims' deaths were caused by ingesting a cyanide compound, the credibility of Kakehi's confession, and whether she was mentally competent to be held responsible for her suspected crimes.

"Since she is suffering from dementia, she barely remembers things that happened recently let alone the incidents," her defense team said at the hearing, adding that it will fight all charges against her.

Kakehi listened to the proceedings with headphones apparently due to hearing difficulties.

The case is set to be the second longest trial held under the lay judge system involving citizen judges, lasting for an expected 135 days.

More than 600 people lined up on the morning of the first day to get a ticket to observe the high-profile trial.

Man gets life in prison for murdering mistress, baby

A court sentenced a 48-year-old man to life in prison Monday for murdering his mistress and their baby boy born outside of marriage in Fukuoka Prefecture in 2004.

In handing down the sentence as sought by prosecutors, the Fukuoka District Court said that Kazuhiko Yoshidomi stabbed Katsumi Shiga, 28, and strangled their son Kazuto, about seven months old, describing the crime as "brutal with no room for sympathy."

Yoshidomi, who was already married to another woman, "took the two precious lives including the baby in a grave case" as he was angry at being blamed by Shiga for not marrying her while living together, Presiding Judge Akira Maruta said.

In the trial by three professional judges and six citizen judges, Yoshidomi's defense team had sought 13 to 15 years in prison, saying the defendant admits to the charges and repents for what he has done.

According to the ruling, Yoshidomi stabbed Shiga in the chest with a knife and strangled Kazuto with a cord at their apartment in Kurume around December 2004.

Source: Japan Today, June 26/27, 2017

A look at life on death row in Japan

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
TOKYO -- From 1967 to 1994, novelist and nonfiction author Toshio Sakamoto worked as a guard, supervisor and warden in seven of Japan's penal institutions. Since retiring, he has served as an advisor to TV dramas and film makers, and recently published a book titled "Order to Proceed with an Execution" (Nihon Bungeisha).

In Shukan Taishu (June 9), Sakamoto talks about what an average day is like for a condemned prisoner on Japan's death row. The article was inspired in part by the release last March 27 of 78-year-old convicted killer Iwao Hakamada, who had been incarcerated for 48 years -- the last 34 of which had been spent after his having exhausted all appeals. Hakamada was released after the Shizuoka District Court ordered a retrial on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct -- a rare but not unprecedented event in Japan.

"While serving as a Ministry of Justice official from 1979 to 1984, I was engaged in a study of conditions for dealing with death row convicts, and met with Mr Hakamada on numerous occasions," says Sakamoto. "Likewise from autumn of 1988, when I served as warden.

"My first impression upon meeting him was that he was a 'good kid.' He seemed determined to prove his innocence and I had doubts that he was the type of person who could have slain a family of four."

Japan currently [as of June 1, 2014] has 130 prisoners awaiting the Minister of Justice's signoff for their execution. They are incarcerated at seven prisons: Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, with about half the total in Tokyo's Kosuge Prison.

Shukan Taishu provides an illustration of a typical prisoner's solitary cell, which measures slightly less than 4 tatami mats (about 6 square meters), and includes a sink, commode, bedding and a small desk. Prisoners are entitled to a limited number of personal possessions, including items of food they can purchase on their own.

"It might seem like a paradox, but we have to ensure the physical and mental health of death row prisoners, up to the time they are executed," says Sakamoto. "To prevent attempts at suicide, self injury or escape, they are subjected to round-the-clock monitoring by a camera on the ceiling of each cell."

From the time they arise at 7 a.m. until lights go out at 9 p.m., prisoners are obliged to adhere to a rigid schedule that includes three daily meals and morning and evening cell inspections.

Thirty minutes of exercise, such as skipping rope or running in place, is permitted several times a week. The prisoners bathe twice a week (increased to three times during the summer months), with the total allotted time, including shaving, limited to 15 minutes.

"While in their cells they are required to remain seated, and free movement is not allowed," says Sakamoto. "Conversation with prisoners in adjacent cells is strictly prohibited.

"While they can't perform labor in the prison workshop, they can, upon request, seek permission to perform contracted light jobs while seated in their cells, like pasting together department store shopping bags, which might earn them a few thousand yen a month."

Sakamoto says performing work is beneficial in taking their minds off their impending executions, and has a "stabilizing" effect.

"In Kosuge there's nothing for them to see out their window except the corridor. They're not permitted to speak to anyone, and about the only day-to-day variations they encounter are differences in the contents of their meals," he notes.

The length of incarceration before an execution is carried out can be as brief as one to two years, but the average runs from 7 to 8 years. In cases like Hakamada's, where questions were raised over his guilty verdict, some prisoners may spend 30 years or longer on death row.

Sakamoto notes that many new prison guards undergo "culture shock" at the beginning of their careers, and sometimes endure psychological torment at the inflexible rules they are required to enforce. He is also struck by the fact that in Japan, as other countries with the death penalty, such sentences are far more likely to fall upon those who lack power, influence and the economic means to mount a solid legal defense. "The difference is evident to anyone," he remarks.

Source: Japan Today, June 1, 2014

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