On Dec. 1, a Supreme Court death penalty for a man with an intellectual disorder who was convicted of killing two women became fixed. What led up to the killings was a life of repeatedly slipping through the safety net of social support and going to prison for crimes including theft.
In handing down the ultimate penalty, the top court ruled that the man's criminal tendencies were "serious and strong," and that it was not appropriate to give too much weight to his low mental capacity and poor upbringing.
The man is 49-year-old Soji Fujisaki. I met him three times between October and December this year during my coverage of the crimes.
"I was hard up for money," he told me. "I feel sorry for the victims."
Fujisaki had racked up a tab at a bar and fallen behind on payments, which led him to plan a murder-robbery. On Jan. 18, 2005 he broke into the home of a 75-year-old woman in Hokota, Ibaraki Prefecture, strangled her to death, and made off with over 70,000 yen. Just 10 days later he broke into the home of a 79-year-old woman living by herself, and strangled her to death as well.
Nearly six years have passed since the killings. Sitting behind an acrylic panel, the imprisoned Fujisaki bore a blank expression, his voice seeming as if it were about to fade. When I asked him why he had fallen back to crime, he was silent at first, and then abruptly stated, "I'm giving up drinking." Asked about his death sentence, he responded, "I'm disappointed. I won't be able to pay back my debts."
Fujisaki was born and raised in the town of Hokota, now part of a city of the same name. He hardly attended junior high school. After graduation, he helped out with his family's farm work. Later, however, he turned to crime, and from his 20s he would be sent to prison eight times in his life. On one occasion he stole a truck and abandoned the vehicle when it ran out of fuel.
"When we didn't see Shuji around, people would start to say, 'I wonder what he's in for this time. He was a cowardly man,'" commented one local resident in his 60s.
A psychiatric evaluation conducted at the time of Fujisaki's arrest found that he had a mid-level intellectual disorder. When he was in his 20s, a judge took his condition into consideration and reduced his criminal responsibility, accepting that he was mentally unsound. In a prison test he was found to have an intellectual capacity at or below that of a second-grader. But no one obtained a rehabilitation certification for him to bring him into the welfare system for the disabled. His parents had passed away and his siblings, also burdened with disabilities, were in no position to help him.
In 1999, when Fujisaki was released from prison on parole, he temporarily entered a rehabilitation facility in the Kansai area to help him become independent and start working. Before long, however, he returned to crime and was back in prison.
Looking back, the current representative of the facility commented: "We try to account for disabilities, but we're not a specialized care facility, so there's only so much we can do."
No longer undergoing rehabilitation, the man completed a prison sentence in 2002 and returned to his family home without any support. Neighbors found him a job mowing grass, as well as a live-in position picking Japanese radishes at a pickling factory. He was slow at his work and was only paid around 2,000 yen a day, but since he had learned to read and write while in prison, he had become able to survive without relying on others.
Later, he took to frequenting a bar. He drank shochu liquor and sang karaoke renditions of Akira Inaba's "Wakatte Kudasai" (Please understand me). At times he brought dried potatoes to the bar as souvenirs. The bar proprietress said she thought he was "lonely and wanted attention." But his drinking tab started adding up, and he was banned from the establishment. Soon afterward he committed the murders. Immediately after stealing the money, though it was still dawn, he visited the home of the proprietress and paid off his tab.
District welfare officers knew about Fujisaki, but did not try to get him into a welfare facility.
"He was a quiet person, and theft was about all he would get up to, so we didn't consider mediating to have him put into a facility," one former officer said.
An 82-year-old man who served as Fujisaki's probation officer when Fujisaki was in his 20s said probation officers could only go so far.
"There's a sense of helplessness in the situation," he said. "Rehabilitation facilities don't readily accept repeat offenders with low IQs, and probation officers have no say in the situation once the probation period ends. Prison is the only place that takes in people like him. I wonder if this is really right."
During my coverage of the case, I also met the 76-year-old younger brother of one of the victims.
"He murdered two people, and atoning for the crime with his life is unavoidable," the 76-year-old said, before adding, "He was just barely getting by in life. I wonder what it would have been like if there had been someone close to him to look after him."
The home of the death-row inmate, now without a householder, stands in a bamboo grove, overgrown with weeds. It is deserted.
Top court upholds death penalty for double murderer
15th October, 2010
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld lower court rulings that sentenced a man to death for killing two women and stealing cash in Ibaraki Prefecture in 2005. Rejecting the appeal by Soji Fujisaki, 49, Ryuko Sakurai, presiding justice at the top court’s first petty bench, said it was cruel to murder two acquaintances just for entertainment expenses.
Fujisaki was accused of killing the two women, aged 75 and 79, in Hokota, Ibaraki, in January 2005 and stealing around 70,000 yen in cash, according to the initial ruling by the Mito District Court. His defense argued he was mentally incompetent. However, Sakurai ruled that the death penalty is unavoidable even allowing for his intelligence level.
Double-killer's death penalty upheld
Friday, Dec. 22, 2006
The Tokyo High Court on Thursday upheld a lower court-imposed death sentence on a man convicted of robbing and murdering two women in their 70s in January 2005 in Hokota, Ibaraki Prefecture.
The high court rejected the appeal of Soji Fujisaki, 45, a factory worker, against the death sentence handed down last December by the Mito District Court.
Fujisaki was convicted of breaking into the home of Yai Yamaguchi, 75, in Hokota early on Jan. 18, 2005, strangling her and stealing some 76,000 yen in cash to pay for his hostess bar habit.
Fujisaki was also convicted of strangling Yoshi Kubo, 79, at her home on Jan. 28 during a robbery.