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July 26 2010 | JAPAN


Lawyers involved in capital cases call for death penalty abolition

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Japan Today

In the face of recent revelations of a series of false accusations, lawyers involved in capital cases called for abolition of the death penalty, arguing at a civil meeting in Tokyo on Saturday it is irreversible if an innocent person is hanged.

Yasuyuki Tokuda, a lawyer who is working for reopening a trial of an executed man, told the 80 audience members that while his client will never return, "it will undermine the system of capital punishment if the court decides to reopen the case."

His client, Michitoshi Kuma, was convicted of kidnapping and killing 2 7-year-old girls in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, in 1992, a murder known as the "Iizuka Case," and was hanged in October 2008 at the age of 70 despite his consistent claim of innocence.

One year after the execution, his widow filed an appeal for retrial with the Fukuoka District Court, and Tokuda and his fellow lawyers have submitted to the court test results from a forensic expert that indicate Kuma's DNA and blood type were different from the culprit's.

"I hope the court will retry the Iizuka Case and it will lead to the termination of the death penalty in Japan," Tokuda said.

The meeting was organized by Forum 90, an anti-death penalty campaigning group, after several acquittals following retrials, including the high-profile Ashikaga case in which a man convicted of killing a 4-year-old girl was acquitted this year after spending more than 17 years in prison, drew public attention.

Another lawyer reporting at the meeting was Takeyoshi Nakamichi, who is defending a 52-year-old man convicted of murdering his daughter-in-law and her son in Osaka City in 2002.

The defendant, Takemitsu Mori, was initially sentenced to life imprisonment at the Osaka District Court, and then received the death sentence at the Osaka High Court.

But the Supreme Court nullified both rulings and sent the case back to the district court for further deliberations in April this year, saying, "It is extremely difficult to find him guilty based solely on the indirect evidence presented in the lower court rulings," raising the possibility that Mori would be acquitted unless prosecutors present strong evidence.

Nakamichi said, "The Supreme Court has set the legal hurdle higher for issuing the death sentence by ruling it is not enough only to accumulate probabilities that a defendant may be the real culprit."

The authenticity of criminal trials in Japan is doubtful and capital punishment rests with such a dangerous situation, Nakamichi suggested, adding, "Lower courts will not be able to issue a death sentence without careful consideration anymore."

Japan, one of the few advanced countries maintaining the death penalty, has not executed death row inmates since it hanged three inmates on July 28 last year, with current Justice Minister Keiko Chiba showing a cautious stance over execution.

However, Chiba, a former member of the Japan Parliamentary League against the Death Penalty, may be replaced soon as she lost her Diet seat in the upper house election earlier this month. Anti-death penalty campaigners are now focusing on whether her successor follows her stance or resumes executions.

According to Amnesty International Japan, 139 countries, or more than 2/3 of the countries in the world, have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice so far.

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