2009: Hiroshi Maeue, suicide website murderer

One year ago today, Japan hanged three men, among whom the most notorious was Internet suicide-club serial sex killer (you can see why he made the headlines) Hiroshi Maeue.

After a couple brushes with the law over asphyxiation-oriented assaults in the 1990s, Maeue found his medium in hypertext.

Trolling a Japanese “cyber-suicide” site — they’re notoriously popular in Japan — the late-30s Maeue lured two young women and a 14-year-old schoolgirl to separate meetings for the ostensible purpose of committing joint suicides.

M.O.: get the “partner”/victim into a car on the pretext of doing the carbon monoxide poisoning thing together, then tie her up and throttle her. Rape doesn’t seem to have been a part of it, but word was that Maeue “confessed to deriving sexual pleasure from seeing people suffocate.”

He got that treatment himself little more than two years after he was sentenced. Hanged along with Maeue in Osaka this date was Yukio Yamaji, who raped and murdered two sisters in 2005. On the same day in Tokyo, Chinese national Chen Detong got the rope for a 1999 triple homicide.

Perhaps not coincidentally, these high-profile executions occurred just weeks before national elections that were looking bad (and turned out worse) for the then-governing Liberal Democratic Party.

Update: Japan observed the one-year anniversary by hanging two more people this same date in 2010, executions personally witnessed by anti-death penalty Justice Minister.

“It made me again think deeply about the death penalty,” said Keiko Chiba. “and I once again strongly felt that there is a need for a fundamental discussion about the death penalty.”

They were the first executions under the Democratic Party government elected shortly after Maeue’s hanging.

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2006: Three old men and a taxi driver

Two years ago today, Japan resumed executions after a break of more than a year with four hangings.

Septuagenarians Yoshio Fujinami (wheelchair-bound) and Yoshimitsu Akiyama (partially blind) both needed the guards’ assistance to reach the trap at Tokyo Detention Center, a mere hour after they were informed of their imminent demise.

Two other prisoners, 64-year-old Michio Fukuoka and 44-year-old Hiroaki Hidaka, were simultaneously hanged in Osaka and Hiroshima, respectively.

Hidaka, a serial killer, had dropped his appeals and thus died a mere 12 years after his crimes. Fukouka died maintaining his innocence of three murders from 1978-81 he said police torture had forced him to confess. The oldest men were on the hook for killings dating to 1975 and 1981. (Much more from The Japan Times.)

Talk about justice delayed.

In Japan’s strange death penalty system, the condemned might await death for decades only to be hanged, as these were, with next to no warning. Their families and supporters did not hear about it until after the deed was done.

These hangings, though protested, were not altogether unexpected, for a break in the Japanese Diet around the end of the year often heralds an appearance on the public stage by the gallows. (Look for them in 2008 as the Diet goes out of session starting today.) And a turnover at the top of the Justice Ministry had replaced a pol disinclined to authorize any hangings, the source of the long break between executions during a decade when Japan’s use of the death penalty has generally been intensifying.

Although at least one particularly pressing motivation for this date’s hanging will not be present this year. After the long hiatus, an anonymous official told a newspaper,

We absolutely wanted to avoid ending the year with zero executions.

But in 2008, Japan has already carried out more hangings than in any year since 1975.

A panel from former prison guard Toshio Sakamato’s “How the death penalty is carried out”. More here.

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2004: Mamoru Takuma, for the Osaka school massacre

On this date in 2004, Mamoru Takuma was hanged for one of the most notorious crimes in modern Japan — the Osaka school massacre.

On June 8, 2001 — a day the 11-time arrestee was due in court for assaulting a bellhop — Mamoru Takuma (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) entered the Ikeda Elementary School in Osaka and knifed 20-plus people, killing eight young students.

Even when taking on 7- and 8-year-old children, that’s an astonishing body count for a guy packing only a blade. Some staff at the school finally tackled the guy.

“I want others to know the unreasonableness that high-achieving children could be killed at any time.”

Takuma had been institutionalized even more often than he had been arrested, so the shocking crime pitted public outrage against the judiciary’s capacity for handling mentally ill offenders.

Guess which won out. In the wake of the crime, in fact, the government toughened laws on crimes committed by mentally ill offenders.

Takuma was hanged barely three years after the attacks, and even though he pushed for his own execution, the lightning-fast completion of the sentence (most death penalty cases in Japan drag on for decades — here’s an extreme example) raised misgivings both domestic and international.

Though his case remains an outlier, those concerns already seem a bit passe: Takuma also turned out to presage the distinctly more aggressive pace of executions in Japan in recent years.

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