One of the two death row inmates who were executed on July 13 on the order of Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda had asked that his case be retried.
It is extremely rare for a death row inmate to be hanged while seeking a retrial. The move indicates that the Justice Ministry does not accept what it regards as "token requests for retrials aimed solely at avoiding execution."
The Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that the justice minister must order that a death row inmate be hanged within six months after their death sentence is finalized. However, the legislation also states that the period when an inmate is asking for a retrial and when their accomplices are standing trial should not be included in the six-month period.
The law does not explicitly ban the justice minister from ordering the execution of an inmate during such periods. Still, the execution of a death row inmate is usually avoided while they are asking for a retrial.
In December 1999, death row inmate Teruo Ono was executed at the age of 62 while he was asking for a retrial. Since it was his eighth retrial request, the Justice Ministry closely reviewed the details of his request and apparently deemed that there was no chance that he would win acquittal even if he were to be retried.
According to the ministry, 124 death row inmates are currently being detained across the country having had their death sentences confirmed, and over 70 percent of them are asking for a retrial.
A senior ministry official pointed out that there are some cases in which death row inmates repeatedly file a token request for a retrial to avoid being executed.
It is believed that Masakatsu Nishikawa, 61, who was hanged on July 13, had filed a retrial request several times. Following his execution, there is a possibility that the Justice Ministry will lower the hurdle for executing death row inmates while they are asking for a retrial.