Wednesday, November 17, 2010

First death sentence in lay judge trial

"A man charged with brutally murdering two men was sentenced to death in a ruling at the Yokohama District Court on Nov. 16, marking the first time for the ultimate penalty to be handed down in a lay judge trial.

"The 32-year-old defendant, Hiroyuki Ikeda, was sentenced to death for murdering a 28-year-old mah-jongg parlor manager and another 36-year-old man in Chiba Prefecture in 2009.

"In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Yoshifumi Asayama said the death penalty could not be avoided.

""The cruelty of his actions was inhuman, and the ultimate penalty cannot be avoided even if circumstances are taken into consideration to the maximum possible extent," the judge said.

"Ikeda admitted to a charge of murder and robbery, which carries a sentence of death or life imprisonment, and public prosecutors demanded the death penalty. It was the second time in a citizen judge trial for the death penalty to be sought. Lawyers for Ikeda requested avoidance of the death penalty, and the focus of the case was on the sentence.

"During the trial, Ikeda said, "Whatever the ruling is, I want to serve the sentence without resenting anyone." After the ruling, however, the judge made the rare move of recommending that the defense file an appeal due to the seriousness of the decision.

"The ruling adopted standards for handing down the death penalty that included the level of brutality of the murder method, the motive and the victim's feelings.

"Commenting on the fact that Ikeda had ignored the pleas of the two victims for their lives and used an electric saw and knife to cut their throats, the ruling said, "It was an extremely grotesque crime and among the conceivable methods of killing it was exceedingly brutal and the suffering of the victims is unimaginable." The ruling added that Ikeda was ruthless in refusing the final wishes of the victims to call their families.

"The ruling said that the motive was sparked by a request from Takero Kondo, the former manager of the mah-jongg parlor who had gotten into an argument with the two victims over management of the parlor. However, the court added that Ikeda had wanted to show off his power and obtain access to illegal drugs that Kondo allegedly ordered the smuggling of, and criticized his actions as "selfish and malicious." Kondo, 26, is on an international wanted list for alleged crimes including murder and robbery.

"The court said the shock and sadness felt by the victims' families was enormous and concluded that there was no option but to hand down the death penalty when considering the brutality, maliciousness, calculated nature and result of the crime.

"The ruling came 1 1/2 years after the launch of the lay judge system, under which citizen judges have a say in sentences.

"In a news conference after the ruling one of the six lay judges, a man in his 50s, said he was troubled by the case and wept several times in the courtroom.

""Even now I cry when I remember it," he said, adding that he fretted each day over whether the defendant should be sentenced to life imprisonment or death.

"Asked about his impression of Ikeda in court, he said, "In the trial, it looked like he was saying, 'I've done something bad, kill me.' But when we saw him listening to the opinions of the bereaved families, we could see his eyes going red with tears, and we cried as well."

"However, the lay judge said he tried to focus on the sentence as prescribed by law rather than on the defendant.

""Looking at the defendant alone in court you would cry and a proper trial couldn't go ahead," he said."

By Mainichi Shimbun (11/16/2010), Link to article (last visited 11/17/2010)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Children's Right to Know Their Origins

"In the four years since Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto started operating the nation's first "baby hatch," where parents can anonymously leave babies they feel they cannot care for, 57 babies and infants have been dropped off at the hospital.

"In the same period, the hospital has also given free counselling to a number of people about such matters as pregnancy and child-rearing. The hospital continues to receive requests for such consultations.

"The role of the hospital highlights the problems facing society as a whole in aiding people who find it impossible to raise newborns.

"In responding to a buzzer at the incubator-like 24-hour baby hatch, hospital staffers often find newborns, some of them still with umbilical cords still attached.

"Of the 32 boys and 25 girls who were left in the hatch as of spring this year, 48, or 84 percent, were newborns. Six were infants under 1 year old, and three were over 1.

"Shortly after the hospital set up the hatch, which is named Konotori-no-Yurikago (stork's cradle), it received a 3-year-old boy.

""As we expected, many of the babies left were newborns," said Yukiko Tajiri, the hospital's chief nurse. "We've had [mothers] come to the hospital shortly after giving birth to babies at a home, which is dangerous."

"According to the Kumamoto municipal government, which monitors use of the hatch, the parents of 34 babies were confirmed to be from outside Kumamoto Prefecture.

"Of them, 15 were from the Kanto region, and five each were from the Kinki and Chubu regions.

""We saw that there are people in great distress throughout the country," said Taiji Hasuda, director of the hospital. "These babies might have been abused if this hospital hadn't been here."

"Sumio Ishihara, an official of the municipal government's Children's Future Bureau, said some still believe the baby hatch system encourages parents to abandon their children.

""It's obvious that a society that doesn't need such a system would be better," he said. "There are people who come here by train or car from as far as the Kanto region to drop off babies, and there are young people who aren't informed about contraception. [The baby hatch] sheds light on realities of society and flaws in the current system."

"The hospital changed part of the system, deleting a sentence on its Web site that said, "Parents can anonymously drop off babies." It also seeks to contact parents and on its Web page advises would-be users of the baby hatch to use an intercom at the hatch to ask for advice.

"Last fiscal year, the hospital was able to contact about 90 percent of parents who left infants in the baby hatch.

"In seven cases, parents changed their minds when they were dropping the baby off or after the hospital located them.

"Child welfare centers take care of infants left in the baby hatch until they can be temporarily placed in a child consultation office or in foster homes.

"The hospital says it tries to have such infants permanently placed in homes under a special adoption system that legally dissolves infants' relationship with their biological parents and makes them children of the adoptive parents.

"However, problems remain about children's right to know their origins.

""Anonymity is convenient for those who give birth to a baby, but this leaves a serious problem for children as they can't get any information about their origins," said Nobuko Kuroda, an official of Kumamoto prefectural government's Chuo child consultation center.

""The reasons why parents drop off infants include being unmarried, too young, poor or having a child as a result of an extramarital affair," said Prof. Reiho Kashiwame of Shukutoku University, who chairs a committee of the prefectural government tasked with reviewing the baby hatch system. "These problems reflect the society itself. [For example,] we discussed men who don't take responsibility.

""[The baby hatch] shows the child welfare system, as well as the maternal and child health system, don't adequately support people who have unintended pregnancies," she said. "The worries of such parents can lead to child-abuse deaths. The government needs to prepare a shelter for mothers and children that gives advice and can cope with crises.""

By Noriko Sakakibara (Yomiuri Shimbun, 11/7/2010), Link to article (last visited 11/11/2010)