2011 June 16 Sentence finalized after defendant abandons appeal.
Lay-judge panel sentences man to death for 1st time
2010 November 16th
The Yokohama District Court handed down Tuesday the first death sentence under the lay judge system, to a 32-year-old man guilty of brutally murdering two men last year.
The court said in its ruling that it had no choice but to sentence Hiroyuki Ikeda to death, noting that the murders were ‘‘a relentless, atrocious and inhumane act,’’ while one of the six lay judges said later, ‘‘I agonized deeply…I shed tears many times.’‘
After reading out the sentence, Presiding Judge Yoshifumi Asayama urged the defendant, in an exceptional manner, to appeal the ruling, saying, ‘‘This is a serious conclusion, so as a court, we recommend that you file an appeal.’‘
Ikeda, in conspiracy with another man who is now on the wanted list, killed two men in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, in June last year before dismembering and dumping their bodies, while robbing one of them of about 13 million yen, according to the ruling.
Because the defendant did not contest the charges, the trial focused on the severity of punishment by the panel of six members of the public and three professional judges, with prosecutors seeking the ultimate penalty.
The presiding judge said that by brutally killing the victims, Ikeda ‘‘thought of showing off his power,’’ adding that ‘‘the physical suffering the victims suffered is beyond imagination.’‘
He said the court decision is in line with the Supreme Court standards set in the case of Norio Nagayama, a death row inmate hanged in 1997 for killing four people when he was a teenager.
The so-called Nagayama standards, which take into consideration the number of victims, motives, brutality and social impact, among other factors, have been used for years in determining whether to apply the death sentence in murder cases.
The defense counsel had asked the judges to show leniency, arguing that the defendant confessed to his involvement in the killings after his arrest over a case involving stimulant drugs, and reflected on his actions.
But the court declined to value the confession, saying that while expressing remorse and apologies, the defendant ‘‘has only recovered his humanity.’‘
As to the deliberations among the judges, the court only said they ‘‘thoroughly discussed’’ any extenuating circumstances.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for the second time in a trial involving citizen judges, noting that Ikeda cut off the head of one of the victims with an electrical saw while the man was still alive.
The victims were a 28-year-old owner of a mahjong parlor in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district and a 36-year-old company employee.
In the trial, Ikeda at times expressed willingness to be put to death, but according to his defense lawyer, he recently indicated that he may want to live in order to face up to the consequences of his actions.
At the courtroom Tuesday, Ikeda, who wore a dark suit and blue tie, bowed to the judges in front of him when his sentence was read out, saying, ‘‘Thank you.’’ He then offered apologies to those in the gallery and bowed deeply.
Experts and those who have served as lay judges had expressed concern that a heavy burden was placed on citizen judges, who were asked to make a life-or-death decision for the defendant.
‘‘I agonized deeply,’’ one of the six citizen judges—three men and three women—said at a news conference after the ruling. ‘‘I shed tears many times.’‘
But the man, who is in his 50s and the sole member of the panel who attended the news conference, said he considered the case ‘‘in a fair manner’’ by listening to both the prosecution and defense sides well.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations requested in a statement after the ruling that sufficient consideration be made for citizen judges who bear ‘‘psychological burdens’’ of having to make decisions that concern matters of life and death.
Lay judges are barred for life from discussing the content of closed-door deliberations. The lifetime secrecy obligation has been heavily criticized, in part because the public would not be able to learn how judges have reached conclusions, including in cases of capital punishment.
Ikeda’s alleged conspirator, Takero Kondo, 26, has been put on a wanted list in connection with the murder-robbery case. In a separate trial that ended last month, Ikeda was found guilty of involvement in the smuggling of stimulant drugs last year.
In October, prosecutors sought the death penalty for the first time in a lay judge trial in the case of a man charged with murdering two women in Tokyo last year, but the man was sentenced to life imprisonment on Nov 1.
Under the lay-judge system, six ordinary people randomly selected from eligible voters examine murder and other serious criminal cases together with three professional judges at district courts. A ruling is decided by a majority of judges, or five judges or more, as long as at least one professional judge is in the majority.