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This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
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Japan: Disclosed files fail to show why convicts chosen for execution

Gallows trapdoor at Tokyo Detention Center, Japan
The Justice Ministry has put an end to its longtime policy of avoiding executions of death-row inmates while they are calling for a retrial, but who is chosen to be hanged is still shrouded in secrecy.

The hanging of a prisoner seeking a retrial requires cautious judgment, yet the Justice Ministry ordered the execution of 3 of them in 2017.

The 1st was 1 of 2 men hanged in July, marking the 1st time in 17 years that a prisoner seeking a retrial was executed.

The Justice Ministry has failed to disclose the reasons the 2 inmates were selected for execution in July 2017.

Most of the pages of relevant documents obtained from the Justice Ministry by The Asahi Shimbun last year under the freedom of information law were blacked out.

The Asahi Shimbun has filed requests for but has yet to receive the documents regarding the December executions.

In addition, the death of 1 of the men in December marked the 1st execution in 20 years of an inmate on death row for a crime committed as a minor.

There are now 122 inmates on death row in Japan as of Dec. 27, according to the ministry. Among these, 95 are seeking a retrial.

7 types of document were released last year by the Justice Ministry in response to the requests filed by The Asahi Shimbun regarding the executions in July.

The other inmate executed in July did not seek a retrial. The death sentence given under the lay judge system has also been questioned because he only killed one person.

The number of inmates on death row has surpassed 120, marking an increase in excess of 70 in the last 20 years. The trend seems to have prompted the Justice Ministry to change gears to carry out executions that it previously avoided.


1 of the 2 men executed in July was Masakatsu Nishikawa, 61. He was convicted of murdering 4 female "snack" bar operators in Hyogo, Shimane and Kyoto prefectures, and assaulting a female "rakugo" comic storyteller in Osaka Prefecture, over a 1-month period since December 1991.

The other inmate, Koichi Sumida, 34, was convicted of murdering a former female colleague, who was working as a dispatch worker, in Okayama in September 2011.

According to the disclosed documents, the superintending prosecutors at the high public prosecutors offices submitted petitions to the justice minister requesting the sentences be carried out, 5 months after the death sentence was finalized for Nishikawa in June 2005 and 3 months after an execution judgment for Sumida had become final and binding in March 2013.

The move appeared to reflect the Criminal Procedure Law stipulating that the execution must be implemented within 6 months after a death sentence was finalized.

However, it's rare that convicts have been executed so quickly.

Nishikawa was sentenced to death by a district court and a high court, and the Supreme Court rejected his appeal in June 2005.

But he repeatedly requested a retrial after his death sentence was finalized.

His execution was the 1st for a death-row inmate seeking a retrial since December 1999.

Who is to be executed is decided by the Justice Ministry's Criminal Affairs Bureau but why Nishikawa and Sumida were picked to be hanged has remained unclear. The bureau chose Nishikawa and Sumida 11 1/2years and 4 years, respectively, after their sentences were finalized.


Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center, Japan
The execution procedures for Nishikawa and Sumida began with a document dated July 10, 2017, titled "Kessai, Kyoran, Hokoku," (approval, display, report) and stamped by six executives of the Justice Ministry's Correction Bureau and Rehabilitation Bureau.

The document was 25 pages for 1 of the convicts and 10 pages for the other. But the ministry only disclosed 4 pages of them for each convict. A final decision and an outline for an execution order were indicated in the pages handed over. The rest was blacked out.

A document titled "Shikko Soto" (suitable for execution), also dated July 10, was created with the aim of approving the execution with seals from 7 executives of the ministry--then Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, the state minister of justice, vice minister of justice, deputy vice minister of justice, director of the Secretarial Division, director-general of the Criminal Affairs Bureau and director of the General Affairs Division of the bureau.

Within the day, the Justice Ministry then sent execution orders for the 2 convicts to the superintending prosecutors at the high public prosecutors offices. The prosecutors sent replies acknowledging they had received the orders.

The 2 inmates on death row were executed July 13, and 2 types of documents dated the same day, including an initial brief report of the execution, were created for each dead man.

But in the disclosed documents, the times of the executions, the names of witnesses apart from the detention house wardens, which are the names of the prosecutors and administrative officials of the high public prosecutors offices, the circumstances of the executions, and the 2 inmates' last testaments were blacked out.

In Japan, nearly 80 % of death row inmates are currently applying for retrial and some repeatedly file a petition. There has been a long-festering view among ministry officials that the retrial system is exploited by some inmates to delay the carrying out of their death sentences.

However, there was a case of Iwao Hakamada, now in his 80s, a former boxer who was wrongly convicted of multiple slayings in 1966. He spent decades on death row, but was released from prison in March 2014 after the Shizuoka District Court ordered a retrial.

With rising opposition against the death penalty, it remains to be seen if the Justice Ministry will disclose sufficient information to deepen discussion on the issue.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun, January 20, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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