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Takami Sunao Case

Takami is charged with arson resulting in several deaths. He admits to committing the crime under the influence of drugs. His defense team argues that death by hanging, the common mode of execution in Japan, is cruel punishment and therefore illegal.

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Japan: Arsonist loses appeal against death sentence

Posted: 24 Feb 2016

The nation's top court has upheld the death sentence of a man convicted of arson in which 5 people died.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Sunao Takami's appeal against a lower court ruling in the 2009 case, in which he poured gasoline on the floor of an Osaka pachinko parlor and set it alight. The sentence is now set to be finalized.



The presiding judge, Toshimitsu Yamasaki, said the 48-year-old Takami carries an "extremely grave liability for committing a premeditated, indiscriminate murder that targeted a pachinko parlor on a Sunday, when it was expected to draw a large crowd."



The top court's 5-justice No. 3 Petty Bench said the death penalty is justified for Takami, despite certain circumstances being in his favor. These include the fact that he surrendered to authorities on the day following the attack.



According to rulings by the Osaka district and high courts, Takami set the gaming parlor in Osaka's Konohana Ward on fire on July 5, 2009, killing 5 people and injuring 10 others.



Takami's defense counsel argued that execution by hanging is a cruel punishment that runs counter to the Constitution. The country's supreme law forbids cruel punishments and torture by public officials.



But the top court's petty bench dismissed this argument, noting that the Supreme Court has in the past upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment.



In a 1955 ruling on execution by hanging, the top court declared that it was constitutional and is not considered a cruel punishment for most serious crimes.



In handing down the ruling on Takami's case in October 2011, the Osaka District Court's presiding judge, Makoto Wada, noted that there is "controversy" over whether death by hanging is the best way to punish a person, but he added that "the death penalty system in the first place entails that a person pay for his or her crime with death. Agony and cruelty to some extent are inevitable."



Meanwhile, the Supreme Court played down the defense counsel's assertion that Takami was delusional at the time of the attack and in a state of diminished capacity, saying that while such a state of mind does affect the motives of someone accused, it cannot be considered a major factor in this case.



It was the 1st time lay judges participated in a decision regarding the constitutionality of capital punishment.



The Osaka High Court upheld the lower court's ruling in July 2013.

Japan court deliberates hanging's constitutionality
(Mainichi Japan) October 11, 2011


OSAKA (Kyodo) -- A Japanese court began two-day deliberations Tuesday on the constitutionality of capital punishment as part of the trial of a man in an arson and murder case in which five people died in Osaka in 2009.

All six lay judges involved in the trial at the Osaka District Court, as well as two substitutes, attended Tuesday's hearing even though they were not obliged to do so. Citizen judges do not have a say on constitutional issues, which are decided only by professional judges under a 2004 law on the lay judge system.

The defense counsel for 43-year-old Sunao Takami has argued that execution by hanging, which Japan has been carrying out for about 140 years, is cruel and runs counter to the Constitution that forbids the infliction of torture by any public officer and cruel punishments.

At Tuesday's hearing, the defense said it is "human wisdom" that cruel punishment should not be used to penalize criminals in tragic incidents.

An Austrian forensic specialist who has studied cases of death by hanging testified at the hearing that the possibility of the prisoner being decapitated or not dying immediately during execution cannot be ruled out.

Meanwhile, the prosecution said it does not plan to argue in court about the issue as Supreme Court rulings in the past have already made clear the constitutionality of capital punishment.

Takeshi Tsuchimoto, a former prosecutor who attended hangings during his career, is scheduled to testify on Wednesday.

In a ruling on the death penalty in 1948 and one on execution by hanging in 1955, the top court declared both constitutional and said they were not considered cruel punishments.

The 1948 ruling, however, did state that the death penalty should be considered unconstitutional if the execution method is deemed cruel as a result of the change of times and social environment.

Takami, charged with arson, murder and attempted murder, entered a guilty plea at the first hearing of his trial in early September before a panel of three professional and six lay judges at the Osaka court.

He is accused of pouring a bucket of gasoline on the floor of a pachinko parlor in July 2009 and setting fire to it, killing five people and injuring 10 others. The judicial panel is expected to hand down its ruling in late October.

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Ex-prosecutor testifies death by hanging unconstitutional


OSAKA -- A former prosecutor for the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office speaking for the defense counsel of a man charged with murder testified Oct. 12 that death by hanging was unconstitutional.

Deliberations on the constitutionality of death by hanging were held at the Osaka District Court on Oct. 12 as part of the trial of Sunao Takami, 43, who is charged with crimes including murder following an arson attack that killed five people at a pachinko parlor in Osaka's Konohana Ward.

During the hearing, former prosecutor Takeshi Tsuchimoto, now an emeritus professor at the University of Tsukuba, testified, "The death penalty itself is not unconstitutional, but death by hanging violates Article 36 of the Constitution." The article forbids infliction of torture by any public officer and cruel punishment.

Reflecting on the hangings that he attended during his career, Tsuchimoto said, "It is a gruesome and cruel punishment that one cannot bear to look at directly."

Tsuchimoto attended executions as a prosecutor for the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office. With private papers from that time in front of him, he told the court, "Following the sound of the footplate being removed, the rope cut into the death row inmate's neck, leaving the inmate hanging in midair. A medical officer and other officials checked for the inmate's pulse and other signs, then announced that the inmate had died.

"When I looked at the person, who just a few moments earlier was breathing and warm, having their hands and legs bound so they couldn't resist and then swinging (on the rope), I thought it was gruesome."

Speaking on a 1955 Supreme Court ruling that judged death by hanging to be constitutional, he said, "It may have been appropriate at the time, but today it would be rash to judge that it is appropriate."

Commenting on why he represented the defense counsel, Tsuchimoto told a news conference later on Oct. 12, "I don't think it is good for judges to take part in work to decide whether or not to apply the death penalty when they have no idea what death by hanging involves, and I felt it was necessary for me to provide information."
Osaka court deliberates constitutionality of hanging

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Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011

Kyodo



OSAKA — The Osaka District Court began two days of deliberations Tuesday on the constitutionality of hanging condemned criminals as part of a trial for a man accused of arson and the murder of five people.

All six lay judges involved in the trial, as well as two substitutes, attended Tuesday's session even though it wasn't required.

Citizen judges do not have a say on constitutional issues, which are decided only by professional judges under the 2004 law on the lay judge system.

Lawyers for 43-year-old Sunao Takami have argued that execution by hanging, which Japan has been carrying out for about 140 years, is cruel and runs counter to the Constitution's ban on "torture and cruel punishments by any public officer."

The defense team told the court Tuesday it is "human wisdom" that cruel punishment should not be used to penalize criminals in tragic incidents.

An Austrian forensic specialist who has studied cases of death by hanging testified that the possibility of the prisoner being decapitated or not dying immediately can't be ruled out.

The prosecutors in the case have said they don't plan to argue the matter because past Supreme Court rulings have already made clear that capital punishment is constitutional.

Takeshi Tsuchimoto, a former prosecutor who attended hangings during his career, is scheduled to testify Wednesday.

In a ruling on the death penalty in 1948 and one on execution by hanging in 1955, the Supreme Court declared both constitutional and said they were not considered cruel punishment.

The 1948 ruling, however, did state that the death penalty should be considered unconstitutional if the execution method if an evolving society deems it cruel.

Takami, charged with arson, murder and attempted murder, entered a guilty plea when the trial opened in early September before a panel of three professional and six lay judges.

He is accused of pouring a bucket of gasoline on the floor of an Osaka pachinko parlor in July 2009 and setting fire to it, killing five people and injuring 10 others.

The prosecution argues that Takami often exhibited impulsive behavior when he was under stress and that he decided to kill ordinary people to work off his accumulated frustrations.

The focal points in the trial will include whether Takami is mentally competent to be held criminally responsible for his acts and whether the death penalty is constitutional.

The court is expected to hand down its ruling in late October.

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Man pleads guilty to deadly 2009 arson attack at Osaka pachinko parlor
Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2011



Kyodo

OSAKA — A 43-year-old man pleaded guilty Tuesday to setting fire to a pachinko parlor in Osaka in July 2009 that killed five people.


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Sunao Takami


Sunao Takami entered the guilty plea during the first session of his trial before a panel of three professional and six lay judges at the Osaka District Court.

"It's true," Takami said when questioned by presiding Judge Makoto Wada after a prosecutor read the indictment charging him with arson and murder.

Takami's lawyers argued that he was in a state of diminished capacity at the time of the crime. The Penal Code stipulates that "an act of diminished capacity shall lead to the punishment being reduced."

The defense also asked the court not to give Takami the death penalty, calling execution by hanging cruel and counter to the Constitution, which bans "torture and cruel punishments by any public officer."

In its opening statement, the prosecution argued that Takami often exhibited impulsive behavior when he was under stress and that he decided to kill ordinary people to work off his accumulated frustrations.

Takami is accused of pouring a bucket of gasoline on the floor of the pachinko parlor in Konohana Ward, Osaka, on July 5, 2009, and setting fire to it, killing five people and injuring 10 others. Osaka police arrested him the following day.

Prosecutors charged Takami with arson, murder and attempted murder in December 2009 after conducting psychological tests on him.

The Osaka District Court is expected to hand down its decision in late October.

The court picked the six lay judges, and three others as substitutes, last Friday. Their term of service is set at 60 days, the longest so far for citizen judges.

The focal points in the trial will include whether Takami is mentally competent to be held criminally responsible for his acts and whether the death penalty is constitutional.

It is unusual for the constitutionality of capital punishment to be raised and discussed at a trial.

An Austrian forensic specialist who has studied cases of death by hanging is scheduled to testify at the trial, as will Takeshi Tsuchimoto, a 76-year-old former prosecutor who attended several hangings during his time as a prosecutor.

The six citizen judges will not have a say in the court's decision on whether execution by hanging runs counter to the Constitution, as the 2004 law on criminal trials under the lay judge system requires only professional judges to decide on constitutional issues.

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Death penalty sought in Osaka pachinko parlor arson case
(Mainichi Japan) October 17, 2011

OSAKA (Kyodo) -- Prosecutors demanded the death penalty Monday for a man accused of setting fire to a pachinko parlor in Osaka in July 2009 which killed five people, in a lay judge trial at the Osaka District Court.

Sunao Takami, 43, is charged with arson and murder. According to the indictment, Takami poured gasoline and set fire to it at the pachinko parlor in Osaka's Konohana Ward on July 5, 2009, killing five people and injuring 10 others.

Prosecutors said Takami was mentally competent to be held responsible for his actions at the time of the incident and his actions resulted in grave results.

While admitting that he was suffering from delusion due to the use of stimulant drugs, the prosecutors said Takami had acknowledged his actions were criminal and decided on his own will to commit the crime.

Prosecutors also claimed his crime deserves the death penalty under the criteria set by the Supreme Court.

After Monday's conclusion of the one-and-a-half month trial, the court will hand down its ruling on Oct. 31.