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2ND LD: Japan hangs 4 death-row inmates, 1st set of executions this year.

TOKYO, Jan. 29 Kyodo


Japan on Thursday hanged four death-row inmates, conducting the first set of executions this year and also the first in about three months, bringing the remaining number of inmates on death row to 95.

Justice Minister Eisuke Mori, who announced the executions at a news conference, said he had fully scrutinized the cases before issuing the execution order, which he claimed has nothing to do with Diet schedules.

Thursday's set of executions was the second under Mori since Prime Minister Taro Aso took office in September last year and appointed Mori to the justice portfolio. The ministry had last conducted executions Oct. 28, hanging two inmates.

Among the four executed were Shojiro Nishimoto, 32, who had been convicted of killing four people, and Tadashi Makino, 58, who had been found guilty of killing a woman and injuring two others. The remaining two were Yukinari Kawamura, 44, and Tetsuya Sato, 39, who were convicted of burning two people to death in conspiracy.

Nishimoto was hanged at the Tokyo detention house, Makino at the Fukuoka detention house, and Kawamura and Sato at the Nagoya detention house.

''Each of the convicts was truly brutal for claiming the precious lives of others out of their really egoistic motives,'' Justice Minister Mori said at the news conference. ''As justice minister, I have quietly performed my duties.''

Makoto Miyazaki, head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, called for a suspension of executions for a certain period of time, saying that now is the time for Japanese society to discuss the problems of capital punishment and to pursue its reforms.

The Justice Ministry has been carrying out executions at a rate of about once every two to three months from the time Kunio Hatoyama was appointed justice minister in August 2007 by then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Makino had been on the death row for 15 years and two months, Kawamura and Sato for two years and six months, and Nishimoto for two years.

Nishimoto stabbed a 59-year-old taxi driver to death in Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture, in January 2004. He also strangled or fatally stabbed three others in Nagano Prefecture from April through September that year and made away with cash, according to final court findings.

Makino intruded into a home in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, and stabbed a 25-year-old woman to death in March 1990, when he was on parole. He also injured the victim's mother and a female passer-by.

Kawamura and Sato abducted the 64-year-old wife of a coffeehouse operator and her younger sister and burned them to death in drums.

For three of the four inmates, less than three years had passed following the finalization of their death sentences, representing a sharply brief period of time compared with the average eight years for those who were executed in the 10 years through 2007, according to the Justice Ministry.

Fifteen death-row inmates were executed in 2008. Of the 15, less than four years had passed for 12 of them following the finalization of their sentences. Less than two years had passed for the two of the 12.

Of the 95 people currently on the death row, 55 have filed for a retrial, an increase of five from the previous round of executions in October.

AUM Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is believed to be among the 55. Asahara has been convicted of a number of crimes that include the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack against Tokyo's subway system that killed 12 people and injured thousands.
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Feb 2, 2009
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