Kobe Shonen Murder Case

JIADEP Note: In 1997, the head from a decapitated boy was found outside a middle school in Kobe. The incident sent ripples throughout the country and even made CNN news in the states. Police announced the arrest of a 14 year old boy, known in the press as "Shonen A"(Boy A) because it is illegal to publish the name of a suspect or convicted suspect who is less than twenty years old. The only evidence linking him to the crime is a confession which was taken without the presence of lawyers. The boy has now been released from the reformatory and is living secretly somewhere in the country.


INTERVIEW: Kobe Multiple Child Murder Case: A Case of Wrongful Arrest. Shojiro Goto speaks with Michael H. Fox
During 1998, the city of Kobe was plagued by several acts of violence against children, two of which ended in death. The incident which grabbed the most attention was the decapitation of a twelve year old retarded boy-Hase Jun. Police arrested a 14 year old middle school student, known in the media as Shonen A (Youth A) whom they claim has confessed to all the crimes. Goto Shojiro, age 76, one of the country’s most venerated human rights lawyers, is leading a movement to challenge the police findings.

Can you give a brief synopsis of what happened in Kobe? In 1998, there were a series of phantom attacks in which three children sustained serious head injuries. One little girl, aged 12, later died. There was also the beheading incident. And the police arrested the perpetrator? They claim that Shonen A has confessed to all the crimes but in the case of the beheading incident, it is quite clear that the confession has been fabricated, probably through coercion. What makes you think so? When the boy came under suspicion, and we still don’t know how or why, a composition he wrote in school was sent to the National Technological Research Institute for a handwriting analysis. His writing was compared to that of the manifestos which were mailed to the Kobe Shinbun. The institute found that “no likenesses can be established.” The very next day, police took the boy in for voluntary questioning and demanded that he confess to all the crimes. When he refused to confess to the beheading incident, the police then produced his composition, a copy of the manifestos sent to the newspaper, the institute’s report, and told the boy he had better confess because the handwriting samples matched. Of course, it was an outright lie. But haven’t police obtained other evidence? Didn’t they retrieve the saw used in the incident? According to the confession, the boy used a saw to first cut open the padlock of an antenna installation, and then carried out the beheading. The confession then states that he threw the padlock and the saw into a nearby pond. Whenever police carry out an investigation in search of evidence, the normal procedure is to seal off the area, and conduct the search in secret. But in this case, they circumvented normal procedure and invited the media to film the vacuum of the pond. Then out pops the saw! But what about the padlock? It was not recovered. Why? So you think the saw was planted by police? It most certainly seems so. Professor Ishikawa, a forensics specialist at the Kobe University School of Medicine, is skeptical that the beheading could even be done with such a saw. He examined the body and found that it lacked the scars which would result from such an operation. Are there any other irregularities with this case? Very, very many. After the boy’s arrest, his parents were not allowed to see him for two and a half months. The reason, according to a book by one of his attorneys, was to respect the boy’s wishes. But parents have legal responsibilities for their children’s actions and should not be denied access at such a crucial time. Perhaps the detectives put some strange idea into his head about his parents. How did the court take all this into account? In his decision, the judge wrote that in regard to the beheading incident, “the investigation was conducted illegally and that the boys confession cannot be accepted as evidence.” It was a daring claim. In the same document, the judge then contradicted himself and wrote that the police should not be faulted for carrying out such an investigation. Why? In this country, even judges fear retribution for going against the norm. After this decision was announced, how did the media and law enforcement officials react? The media barely reacted. Society wants to think that this ugly crime has been solved and that the perpetrator has been caught. Naturally, the media is eager to cooperate. The police issued a short statement saying they were unsatisfied with the claim. With so few people willing to think deeply about this case, they did not need to do much. After the boy was arrested, the phantom attacks stopped. Do you also think that Shonen A has been framed for these crimes as well? I can’t comment with certainty about but the evidence is scanty. None of the implements used in the crimes have been recovered and statements by witnesses conflict with the boy’s confession. People often ask, “if Shonen A is not the criminal, then who do you think did it?” As a lawyer, it is not my job to find suspects or solve crimes. All I can do is defend those who are accused, especially falsely accused. What actions have his legal team been taking? From the very beginning, his lawyers accepted the confession without question. None of them even bothered to check the result of the handwriting analysis until one month after the case began. They themselves were surprised to discover that there really was no match and that they had been duped by the police. When they told the boy of this discovery, he broke into tears and said, “So the detectives lied to me.” Where is the boy now? Have you met with him or his family? The boy is in a reformatory in Kanto. Though I have not been able to gain confirmation, it is quite probable that he is being treated with drugs-the usual treatment for youth in this country. I have not been allowed to meet with him because I was not one of his original attorneys. I have not been able to meet with either of his parents because his present attorneys will not disclose their whereabouts. His original legal team disbanded due to internal conflicts and disagreements. None of them want to discuss the case. One of the most difficult things for any person to do is to admit mistakes. I think they suffer from remorse. Recently, you have taken some actions to defend the boy? I am heading a growing nationwide movement, “The Association to Condemn Police and Prosecutorial Illegalities” which publishes newsletters and holds open forums. I am also affiliated with a second movement, “The Shonen A Habeas Corpus Committee” which wants, but has yet to confirm that the boy is actually in the reformatory and is not being mistreated. I have filed a suit demanding that the Kobe District Court reopen the case and stage a public trial. But as the boy is still a minor, a public trial is unlikely to occur. Until we here from the boy himself, the truth about this case will not be known. ~~~~~~~ This interview was originally published in the monthly magazine: Kansai Time Out.