Japan hangs two prisoners, including first convicted in lay judge trial

Baku, December 18, AZERTAC

Japan on Friday hanged two death-row prisoners including, for the first time, one convicted by lay judges.

It cast a spotlight on the moral and emotional burden of nonprofessionals being asked to hand down death sentences, as participants in lay judge trials may be required to do.

The executions were the first signed off by Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who took the post in October.

Japan and the United States are the only two members of the Group of Seven industrialized nations that still practice capital punishment, though figures by the Death Penalty Information Center show executions in the U.S. hit a 20-year low in 2014 at 35 in seven states.

The killings Friday morning involved two convicted murderers. One killed two women he had intended to rob, while the other stabbed to death his landlord and two other people.

Sumitoshi Tsuda, 63, was convicted and sentenced to hang in a lay judge trial in connection with the 2009 triple-murder at his apartment in Kawasaki.

His death penalty, handed down by the Yokohama District Court in June 2011, was finalized soon after, when he withdrew an appeal. Tsuda’s victims lived adjacent to him, and prosecutors said he harbored hard feelings against them.

Kazuyuki Wakabayashi, 39, strangled and bludgeoned to death two women — a 52-year-old mother and her 24-year-old daughter — in Iwate Prefecture in 2006 after breaking into their home with the intent of committing robbery and rape. Wakabayashi dumped their bodies on a mountain.

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