Ayase Death Watch: Three Executed Morning of Aug 23, two at Ayase

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From Mainichi:

3 death row inmates executed

Three death row inmates were executed at Tokyo and Nagoya detention centers on Thursday, Justice Ministry officials said.

Sources close to the case identified the three as Hifumi Takezawa, 69, and Yoshio Iwamoto, 63, who had been detained at the Tokyo Detention Center, and Kozo Segawa, 60, at the Nagoya Detention Center.

The executions bring the total number of convicts who have been hanged since Justice Minister Jinen Nagase assumed the post in September last year to 10. Death row convicts are executed on orders of the justice minister.

Thursday’s executions reduced the number of death row inmates in Japan to 103. (Mainichi)

Bloomberg has a timely piece covering Japan’s death penalty policy in the context of the soon-to-be-implemented lay judge system. It gives basic background on most of what I wanted to talk about:

The country’s bar association condemned the hanging of three inmates yesterday and called for a moratorium on executions until flaws in the legal system are corrected. To curb abuses, the government plans to team citizen judges with professional jurists to rule on serious criminal cases such as murder and rape.

Under the new system, to be implemented in May 2009, six lay judges chosen at random from voter roles will sit alongside three professionals. Decisions will be determined by majority vote.

“Once lay citizens start participating in trials, the conviction rate will decline,” Tomonao Onizawa, councilor general at the Supreme Court, told reporters earlier this year.

Critics say the proposal, coupled with plans to let crime victims and their families petition for specific punishments, may increase the number of executions.

“Victims will be able to make emotional pleas to the court, with lay judges thrust into a role to hear the most heinous crimes,” said Nobuto Hosaka, secretary general of the Japanese Parliamentarian League Against the Death Penalty. “We feel they will favor the most serious punishment.”

Emotional Rulings

At a June 3 mock trial to test the new system, many audience members wanted the defendant, accused of dangerous driving resulting in death, to receive a longer sentence than the eight years handed down.

“We should feel emotions to some degree in judging, but we shouldn’t let emotions control the ruling,” said Kyoko Hamada, a 48-year-old homemaker from Matsudo city, northeast of Tokyo.

Similar systems are used in some European countries, including Germany and Norway. The use of lay judges “assures a more open and transparent process,” according to Norwegian Public Prosecutor Linda Myrdal.

Instead of the proposed changes, the Justice Ministry should curb abuses that occur in police cells, where suspects may be interrogated for as long as 23 days, Menda said.

`Beatings, Intimidation’

Police tactics include “beatings, intimidation, sleep deprivation, questioning from early morning until late at night and making the suspect stand or sit in a fixed position,” Amnesty International said in a July 2006 report.

The cells are “a breeding ground for further violations” and drive the high conviction rate because “forced confessions” are rarely ruled inadmissible, Amnesty International said in a July 2006 report.

Menda said he confessed to killing a priest and his wife in 1949 after three weeks without enough food, water or sleep. He was released in 1983 after a retrial found he had been convicted with fabricated testimony and his alibi hadn’t been considered.

At the end of July, there were 105 people on death row who had exhausted all appeals. Almost all were convicted of multiple murders, or murder with another serious crime such as rape or robbery. The most notorious is Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that killed 12 people in the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway.

Public Support

Ten people have been executed since Justice Minister Jinen Nagase took office in October. His predecessor, Seiken Sugiura, refused to sign execution orders during his 11-month term.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations said systemic flaws uncovered during the appeals that led to the release of Menda and three other death-row inmates in the 1980s haven’t been fixed.

“The danger that mistaken death sentences will be handed down still exists,” the federation said on its Web site.

The government says public support for capital punishment justifies its use. In the most recent survey by the Cabinet Office, 81 percent of 2,048 registered voters contacted by phone supported the death penalty in “unavoidable circumstances,” while 6 percent wanted it abolished. The UN says public backing is misleading because of the secrecy surrounding these cases. The Justice Ministry didn’t identify the inmates executed yesterday. Their names were reported by Kyodo News, citing “informed sources.”

“There is an obvious inconsistency when a state invokes public opinion on the one hand, while on the other hand deliberately withholding relevant information on the use of the death penalty from the public,” the UN Commission on Human Rights said in a March 2006 report.

The government doesn’t inform inmates or their families about execution dates to prevent unnecessary “mental anguish,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on its Web site. Critics say the policy is inhumane and designed to suppress protests. For death-row inmates, it means each knock on the cell door may be the call to execution.

“Nothing has changed since the time I was arrested,” Menda said.

No time to outline my thoughts now, but I just want to say that Japan’s death penalty system makes me sick to my stomach, and not just because the prisoners are killed right near my house. It is really scary that the final decision of when and if these prisoners die lies solely in the hands of a political appointee (usually an elected official but not necessarily) who goes through no official vetting process, and on top of that no prior warning is given to the public, victims, or the convict or his or her family. You can debate the morality of killing criminals or the particulars of the legal process, but this absolute bare minimum of human dignity and open government could be easily rectified.

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17 thoughts on “Ayase Death Watch: Three Executed Morning of Aug 23, two at Ayase”

  1. “I just want to say that Japan’s death penalty system makes me sick to my stomach”

    Takezawa: burned down a home in 1990 resulting in the death of an elderly couple, and the murder of a young company employee (about your age) in 1993.

    Iwamoto: broke into a home and killed two people, including a company president, for money.

    Segawa: also broke into the home of a company president and killed him and his wife, also for money.

    What makes me sick to my stomach is that the justice took more than ten years in all of these cases.

  2. Word. I see where Adam is coming from. Transparency is a good thing. However, is Japan not the most selective country in the world when it comes to its executions? You really have to go out of your way to get the death penalty in Japan. Just shooting somebody probably won’t do it. Given the normal 5-10 year wait, I’m not sure that executing innocents is really a problem (plus, the most egregious examples of ham-up justice come from the 40s and 50s). In the vast majority of murders in Japan, the victim and killer know each other. It is the cases where they don’t that usually end up as death penalty verdicts. In these cases, it is not abnormal for dozens of detectives (sometimes well over 100) to be assigned to various aspects of the investigation. In the United States, according to books like the eye-opening “Homicide: A Year On the Killing Streets” some murders get worked for a day or two by one guy with a half dozen other cases, until a so called “red ball” (big media case) goes down. Executions in an environment like this seem like a bad idea.

    Yes, they should probably stop doing it by hanging and should give the inmates some advance notice. However, I tend to think that the death penalty is right for a low murder rate country like Japan, given that it enjoys huge public support.

  3. M-Bone: under the law, one murder is eligible for the death penalty; in practice, you have to murder multiple people for the prosecutors to request it and the judge to rule.

    Fun facts: The crimes eligible for the death penalty under the Criminal Code are attempting to bring down the government (art.77), helping a foreign state war against the country (81~2), and malicious acts resulting in death, i.e. murder, arson felony murder, poisoning the water supply resulting in death, other felony murder, etc.

  4. My concern is that with Japan’s notoriously prosecutor-biased criminal justice system, which it’s famous 99% conviction rate and reliance on forced confessions instead of real evidence, not everyone on death row is guilty- and the no-notice, no-schedule system they have for death row inmates often discourages them filing appeals at all, and makes last minute appeals simply impossible.

    Are there any capital crimes in the US besides treason and murder?

  5. That 99% conviction rate for murders in Japan is a bit of a McGuffin. In 93% of Japanese murder the victim and killer know each other well. Of course the conviction rate is going to be extremely high as these cases are by far the easiest to prosecute. In the USA, where there is quite a bit more “random” killing, the conviction rate is going to be a lot lower. You could also argue that very low conviction rates (with some cases going virtually un-investigated) is a betrayal of the victims and their families.

    The US comparison always going to make the US look bad given that the USA has executed mentally handicapped juveniles (although not any more), executes blacks at twice their representation in the population, executes black killer white victim murderers at three times the rate of white killer black victim murderers (that is, they are 3 times more likely to get death, higher in Florida and Texas), etc.

    I can’t help but think that recent buzz about the death penalty in Japan from US new outfits like Bloomburg and the LA Times is meant to distract from criticism of the USA’s own appalling death penalty record.

    Do you think that innocent people have been put on death row in Japan lately? Japan had a terrible record in the 1940s and 1950s but I’ve not heard about any murder cases with crap evidence lately.

  6. I have no idea if innocent people may have been executed in Japan lately, since it’s not an issue that I particularly follow, but the little I know about the system makes it seem like a very real possibility. And in fact, it is the comparison with the United States that makes me expect there are falsely convicted death row inmates in Japan. The Innocence Project, an organization devoted to freeing the falsely convicted through the use of DNA evidence (which generally was not testable during the original conviction) claims that DNA evidence alone has freed 15 innocent people from death row who were found innocent on retrial-as well as about 200 non-death row inmates.

    The United States-at least certain states within it- does look bad by comparison, but do keep in mind that a handful of states (and Texas in particular) skew the overall stats drastically. In both New Jersey and New York, for example, noone has been executed in at least 40 years, despite it being technically legal. In 12 states it is currently banned, and a slight majority of states have only executed 2 or fewer people in that 40 year span.

    “I can’t help but think that recent buzz about the death penalty in Japan from US new outfits like Bloomburg and the LA Times is meant to distract from criticism of the USA’s own appalling death penalty record.”

    I find that theory a bit bizarre, since the LA Times is fairly liberal, and unlikely to support the death penalty at all, and Mike Bloomberg himself is on the record as anti-capital punishment. See him discussing it on youtube here.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3dIJfaqSHc
    “If you have a death penalty, you will someday make a mistake. And murder by the state is the same thing as murder by a civilian. […] It has been shown in the past that the state does make mistakes.”
    I think these media organizations are covering problems with Japan’s death penalty system not to distract from coverage of the problems in the US, but as part of the same continuing coverage.

  7. “My concern is that with Japan’s notoriously prosecutor-biased criminal justice system, which it’s famous 99% conviction rate and reliance on forced confessions instead of real evidence, not everyone on death row is guilty.”

    While I’m no supporter of the death penalty, I was fairly sure that confessions alone cannopt be used as evidence in any Japanese criminal conviction.

    Here’s what the constitution has to say:

    “Article 38

    1. No person shall be compelled to testify against himself.
    2. Confession made under compulsion, torture or threat, or after prolonged arrest or detention shall not be admitted in evidence.
    *3. No person shall be convicted or punished in cases where the only proof against him is his own confession.*”

    But that’s just the constitution, right? No one actually cares much about that old thing any more.

  8. “but the little I know about the system makes it seem like a very real possibility.”

    But if the possibility is there and the facts are not, I’m not sure that it is such an issue.

    We have heard a lot about the strongarm tactics of the Japanese police, but there is little in the way of coherent analysis to tell us if this is sending innocent people to prison. Case in point – there are some remarkably vocal human rights advocates in Japan (who will remain unnamed). These individuals go nuts about individual “no gaijin” signs on handjob parlors, but, despite the fact that the Japanese prison population is nearing 7% gaijin, have yet to find high profile cases of innocent gaijin steamrolled into confessions — at least not ones that have come to any real wide attention. There have been a few Brits jailed on drug charges who, despite their pleas that they were set up, did time in Japan. This, however, falls under fair play in Japanese law – if you are caught bringing drugs in you are responsible, they don’t care if some guy named Dave asked you to drop off a package for him when you were partying in Amsterdam, you take responsibility for your own bags.

    With the absence of anything concrete, I’m apt to chock this up to another example of Japan bashing. Right now, the Democratic candidates in the USA are talking about Japanese non-tariff barriers to American cars just as they were in 1982. Despite the success of the Germans in the auto arena (or the fact that some American companies like Toys R Us are doing far better in Japan than they are stateside by using their own distribution), this type of nonsense still gets fair play. The convictions statistic could fall into the same category. In just about all of the high profile murders that I have followed in Japan — kokosei burned to death in Chiba (it was her boyfriend they picked him up right away and he confessed), the murder of a little girl in Hiroshima by a Peruvian (he put her body in a box that came with a gas range, he had the gas range in his house, he confessed and said that the devil made him do it when he was caught), the curry murders, the murder of the family in Fukuoka a few years back, etc., etc. They seem completely open and shut with few or no police shenanigans. Am I missing something there?

    You make some good points about innocents making it onto death row in the USA, but that comes back to the point that I made earlier — in America, killings involving strangers are far more common than they are in Japan and these murders are much more difficult to investigate and the chance of an unconnected innocent being picked up that much greater.

    “handful of states (and Texas in particular) skew the overall stats drastically.”

    This is a part of the whole USA thing that I still have a hard time getting – sometimes people end up taking like other parts of the country are not part of the general responsibility. The Texans are still beholden to the US supreme court and skewed statistics in one state are still a problem for all.

    “I find that theory a bit bizarre, since the LA Times is fairly liberal, and unlikely to support the death penalty at all”

    But why articles about Japan’s death penalty at all when the US issue seems far more pressing? Support or not support is not the issue, how they devote their features is. I think that this is a common pattern in US reportage – in 2003-2004 there was a lot of criticism of the “revival of Japanese militarism” kicking around in the US media. Meanwhile the whole show completely dropped the ball on the Iraq War with substantial criticism only really starting up after things had gone to far (not just about WMDs, debate about the whole nature of state power in general). Coming from an academic / outside the US perspective — it is pretty much assumed that major American news sources – even “liberal” ones like CNN and the LA Times (two wishy washy examples) that strike outsiders as being conservative and nationalist – shy away from deep criticisms of the US (particularly foreign policy) and will often run features about gun violence in Brazil (as opposed to gun violence in the USA), racism in Russia (as opposed to hate crimes in the USA), and drug culture in Mexico (as opposed to….), choosing to turn the critical gaze outward rather than inward. This is the opposite of what happens in Japan where feature reporting can be accused of being morbidly self-obsessed.

  9. I don’t have time for a full answer now, but one item I want to briefly point out is the LA Times’ Homicide Report blog, which lists every single homicide reported in the city:
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/homicidereport/

    The Homicide Report is a weekly listing of all homicide victims reported by the Los Angeles County coroner, combined with updates every few days from law enforcement agencies of new homicides not yet listed. Any human being who dies at the hand of another in Los Angeles County, and whose death is recorded by the coroner, is included in the report.

    The report seeks to reverse an age-old paradox of big-city crime reporting, which dictates that only the most unusual and statistically marginal homicide cases receive press coverage, while those cases at the very eye of the storm — those which best expose the true statistical dimensions of the problem of deadly violence — remain hidden.
    […]
    But Angelenos also know that not all suffer equally from homicide. Night after night, vastly higher numbers of young men, most of them black or Latino, many with criminal records, are shot in drive-by shootings in Lynwood, Compton, Watts, South-Central Los Angeles, Willowbrook, Westlake, Boyle Heights, or any of a number of neighborhoods in the county long associated with relatively high crime rates.

    We know the press takes little notice of these deaths. Immense private heartbreak and shattering communal events are thus rendered footnotes or ephemera, while the phenomenon of routine killing in the public streets of a major, first-world city is diffused into virtual invisibility. The public comprehends there is an elephant in the room, but is never given more than a glimpse of its massive bulk; meanwhile the press focuses on a toenail, or the tip of a trunk.

    With The Homicide Report, however, The Times seeks to exploit the advantages of the web to eliminate selectivity in homicide coverage and give readers a more complete picture of who dies from homicide, where, and why — thus conveying both the personal story and the statistical story with greater accuracy.

  10. That blog looks great. I hope that it is all making it into the print version. It does not look like it is, however, which makes me a bit concerned that the information is coming to the proactive web information seekers in a the new medium, while leaving the passive news receivers (let’s face it, a lot of Bush votes in this category) unchanged in the perspectives that they have access to. It also sends a message – we’re not going to bother our paying readers with this type of critical information, just those interested enough to hit it online. I think that the LA Times did their two page Japan execution and two page Japanese nationalism spreads in 2005 quite frankly in place of the types of stories that we are seeing on this blog. I think that this also has to do with an identity crisis on the part of US newspapers. At times, the LA Times tries to be Time Magazine – a more legitimate forum for wide-ranging features critical of foreign policies. It fails.

    I would have been very concerned, for example, if the local Fukuoka paper had run spreads on US gun crime in the wake of the recent outburst of yakuza violence there.

    In any case, this type of record is necessitated by the fact that it has NOT been normal for this kind of complete reporting in the past and what you have shown me here is a quantum leap from just a few years ago, a jump that has been empowered by the beefing up of newspaper websites. This seems like a great step that I’d like to see duplicated elsewhere – I hope that things are getting better in US reporting and that the critical war stance will continue to be a check on politicians in years to come.

    Wow, that blog is a harrowing piece of web reporting. Damn, just going back a week gives me a cold sweat. One of the most important things that I have seen online in a long time, thanks for the link.

  11. Have you ever thought of the brutalizing effect that the death penalty itself has on society? I think this cruel practise stimulate the darkest sides if people. Remember: The US has the most horrific murder cases, like serial killings, in the world….. And the americans adore their killers and make movies about the worst of them.

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