TOKYO -- The Ministry of Justice on Dec. 27 executed two death-row inmates convicted in a 1988 robbery-murder case in the western Japan city of Osaka, bringing the total number of executions this year to 15 -- tying a record high previously set in 2008 since the resumption of executions in 1993.
The executions of the two inmates -- Keizo Okamoto, 60, and Hiroya Suemori, 67 -- follow those of 13 former AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult members including former leader Shoko Asahara in July. They are the first ordered by Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita since he assumed his post in October.
Justice Minister Yamashita told reporters that the robbery-murder case was "extremely cruel," adding that he signed the documents approving the executions on Dec. 25 "based on very cautious deliberations." As for capital punishment in general, Yamashita said it is "not appropriate to abolish it."
According to final court rulings and other information, Okamoto, a former senior member of an organized crime syndicate, and Suemori, a former investment adviser, teamed up with another individual to lure the 43-year-old president and a 23-year-old employee of an investment advisory company to Suemori's apartment in Osaka in January 1988. There, they robbed the men of 100 million yen in cash they had made the victims prepare, and strangled the two to death.
The convicts then encased the victims' bodies in concrete and buried them in a patch of land in the village of Minamiyamashiro in the western Japan prefecture of Kyoto in July the same year. The president was known as a prominent stock dealer in the Kitahama area of Osaka.
In March 1995, the Osaka District Court handed the defendants the death penalty as demanded by the prosecutors, and the Osaka High Court upheld the decision in March 1999. The defendants' appeal was rejected in September 2004 by the Supreme Court, which stated the defendants were "ruthless, heartless and cruel" and had committed a "malicious act of encasing their bodies in concrete and burying them to hide the murders of the two." Some 14 years and three months had elapsed between the top court decision and the executions.
With the latest hangings, the number of death-row inmates in Japan stands at 110, including 82-year-old Iwao Hakamada, who has been released pending a retrial.
Some 80.3 percent of respondents to a November 2014 Cabinet Office opinion survey of 1,826 adults said the death penalty is unavoidable, while 9.7 percent said it should be abolished. Respondents who said they did not have an opinion either way stood at 9.9 percent.
(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada and Akira Hattori, City News Department)