In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Japan executes pair on death row

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
TOKYO (TR) – Japan’s Ministry of Justice on Thursday announced the execution of two male convicts on death row, reports the Sankei Shimbun (July 13).

According to the ministry, Masakatsu Nishikawa, 61, who murdered four female managers of hostess clubs in 1991, and Koichi Sumita, 34, were both executed by hanging. 

Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda ordered the executions.

Between December 13 and 28, 1991, Nishikawa killed the four women — Kyo Harada (55), Noriko Murakami (51), both from Kyoto, Kumiko Masaki (45), from Hyogo Prefecture, and Fumiko Takahashi (55), from Shimane Prefecture — by strangulation or stabbing. He also robbed the victims of more than 200,000 yen in cash.

The following month, Nishikawa attempted to strangle Ayame Katsura, a 37-year-old rakugo storyteller, to death inside her residence in Osaka.

On September 30, 2011, Sumita raped Misa Kato, 27, inside a warehouse of a company where she was employed. He then stabbed her about 10 times. Sumita, who formerly worked with Kato, then drove a vehicle containing her corpse to a garage in Osaka’s Sumiyoshi Ward where it was dismembered and dumped at a garbage site and in a river.

There have been a total of 19 executions under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which began in December of 2012. 

In November of last year, Kenichi Tajiri was hanged for killing two women in Kumamoto Prefecture in the most recent execution before Thursday.

Source: Tokyo Reporter, July 13, 2017

Japan executes two inmates, including one who appealed for a retrial

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Japan hanged two death-row inmates Thursday morning, including a man convicted of multiple murders who had reportedly been seeking a retrial, the Justice Ministry said.

Masakatsu Nishikawa, one of the two executed prisoners, had filed an appeal for a retrial. Nishikawa, 61, was convicted of murdering four female bar managers in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, in 1991.

The other executed inmate was Koichi Sumida, 34, who was sentenced to death in February 2013 by the Okayama District Court for killing his former colleague, Misa Kato, 27, a temp staff worker on Sept. 30, 2011.

Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda ordered the executions, which were the 18th and 19th carried out since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012.

The previous execution, the first ordered by Kaneda, was carried out last November, when a man was hanged for killing two women in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Kaneda told a news conference following the 2016 execution that the punishment was meted out for “an extremely cruel case in which the precious lives of the victims were taken for selfish purposes. I gave the order after careful consideration.”

In October 2016, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a declaration calling for the abolition of capital punishment and the introduction of life sentences without parole by 2020.

Kaneda has expressed opposition to the idea, saying, “A majority of Japanese citizens believe the death penalty is inevitable against heinous crimes.”

According to human rights organization Amnesty International, 141 countries legally or effectively abolished capital punishment as of the end of 2016. In 2016, 23 countries or regions, including Japan, executed inmates.

Amnesty protested against the execution of the two inmates later Thursday.

“Cautious examination was necessary under the capital punishment system, as a nation takes away people’s lives,” Amnesty said in a statement, referring to the case of Nishikawa, who had filed a plea for a retrial. “For fair judgment, an opportunity for retrial should be secured,” it said.

Addressing Sumida’s situation, Amnesty pointed out that his dropping the case automatically led to the ruling. “Under the current system, even if the case has a problem in the process of investigation and indictment, the problem is overlooked when the suspect withdraws the case,” the organization continued. “The execution (of the two inmates) lacks a view to secure the right for fair judgment.”

Source: Japan Times, July 13, 2017

Rights group slams Japan's latest executions as 'inhumane' as 2 murderers are hanged

Death row at Osaka Detention Center
Death row at Osaka Detention Center
The deaths bring the total number since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power in 2012 to 19

Japan executed 2 convicted murderers on Thursday, the justice ministry said, ignoring calls from international rights groups to end capital punishment.

The hangings of Masakatsu Nishikawa and Koichi Sumida bring the total number of executions since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power in 2012 to 19.

Nishikawa, 61, was convicted of killing 4 women in western Japan in 1991, while Sumida, 34, was sentenced to death for killing a female colleague in 2011 and dismembering her body.

"Both are extremely cruel cases in which victims were deprived of their precious lives on truly selfish motives," Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda said.

Calls to abolish death penalty grow louder in Japan

Japan's Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda faces tough questions on capital punishment after 2 murderers were hanged.

"I ordered the executions after careful consideration," he added.

Amnesty International condemned Japan's continued use of the death penalty and said it was a "wanton disregard for the right to life".

"The death penalty never delivers justice, it is the ultimate cruel and inhumane punishment," Hiroka Shoji, East Asia researcher for the group, said.

Nishikawa was hanged while seeking a retrial. Though not unprecedented, it is rare in Japan. Kaneda indicated it was wrong to believe that death row inmates could not be executed while their retrial pleas are pending.

"When a rejection is naturally expected, we cannot help avoiding carrying out [capital punishment]," Kaneda said, noting he was not commenting on either of Thursday's cases.

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Kaneda made the decision "appropriately under the provision of the law".

The death penalty has overwhelming public support in Japan despite protests from European governments and rights groups.

Opponents say Japan's system is cruel because inmates can be on death row for many years in solitary confinement and are only told of their impending execution a few hours ahead of time.

Out of 124 death-row inmates, 91 are seeking a retrial, according to Jiji Press.

Source: South China Morning Post, July 14, 2017

Germany Urges Japan to Abolish Death Penalty

Germany calls on Japan to abolish capital punishment, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office Baerbel Kofler said Thursday.

Earlier in the day, media reported that 2 criminals were executed in Japan despite international criticism.

"The federal government is against the death penalty ... I would like to ask the Japanese government to reconsider this practice and to stop further use of death penalty. In Japan there is an open discussion in the civil society regarding the matter of the abolition of the death penalty. I welcome this discussion, it is an important starting point for dialogue," Kofler said as quoted in the newsletter of the German Foreign Ministry.

Kofler stressed that Germany and Japan worked closely and trustingly on many issues.

Source: Agencies, July 14, 2017

2 men hanged as reprehensible executions continue

Control room and gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Control room and gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
The Japanese government's continued use of the death penalty demonstrates a contempt for the right to life, Amnesty International said, following the execution of 2 men on Thursday.

The executions, the 1st in Japan in 2017, take the number of people executed under the current government to 19 since 2012.

Masakatsu Nishikawa, who was convicted of the murder of four people in 1991 and 1992, was executed at Osaka Detention Centre. He maintained his innocence on some of the charges against him and the Asahi Newspaper reported that he was seeking a retrial. Koichi Sumida, who was convicted of murder in 2011, was executed at Hiroshima Detention Centre.

"Today's executions shows the Japanese government's wanton disregard for the right to life. The death penalty never delivers justice, it is the ultimate cruel and inhumane punishment," said Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

"Executions in Japan remain shrouded in secrecy but the government cannot hide the fact that it is on the wrong side of history, as the majority of the world's states have turned away from the death penalty."

On 1 July, Mongolia became the most recent and the 105th country worldwide to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.

There are 124 death row prisoners detained in Japan, based on the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice.

Secret executions

Executions in Japan are carried out with prisoners typically given only a few hours' notice, and some given no warning at all. Their families, lawyers and the public are usually notified about the execution only after it has taken place.

Secret executions are in contravention of international standards on the use of the death penalty. This and the lack of other adequate legal safeguards for those facing the death penalty in Japan has been widely criticized by UN experts.

This includes defendants being denied adequate legal counsel and a lack of a mandatory appeal process for capital cases. Several prisoners with mental and intellectual disabilities are also known to have been executed or remain on death row.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Source: Amnesty International, July 17, 2017

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