Woman evades death penalty in murder of 7 due to brutal abuse by mastermind of crimes(Mainichi Japan)
December 15, 2011

Junko Ogata (Mainichi)

The Supreme Court stopped short of handing down the death sentence to a woman involved in the murder of seven people in Kitakyushu as an accomplice after taking into consideration that she was subjected to brutal abuse by the mastermind of the crimes.

Focusing on the master-subordinate relationship between Futoshi Matsunaga, 50, and Junko Ogata, 49, the top court's No. 1 Petty Bench upheld a high court ruling that sentenced Matsunaga to death and Ogata to life imprisonment.

It is extremely rare that a defendant involved in the murder of such a large number of people evades the death penalty even in light of the top court's standards for choosing the ultimate punishment.

The ruling suggests that there was heated debate between five justices in the Supreme Court's No. 1 Petty Bench that tried the case.

Lawyer-turned Presiding Justice Koji Miyagawa said in his supplementary comment, "It is necessary to clarify the darkness of the mind and actions of Ogata that are incomprehensible and unreasonable in considering the degree of sentencing in this case."

He then expressed support for the decision that the high court made from a psychiatric viewpoint.

Justice Tomoyuki Yokota, who previously served as a prosecutor, voiced stiff opposition to Miyagawa's idea in his supplementary comment. "Sentencing a defendant involved in the murder of many people to only a life prison term would cause the fair balance of punishment to be lost."

The Supreme Court clarified the standards for whether to choose the death penalty in 1983 when it overturned a life prison sentence that a high court handed down on Norio Nagayama, who was charged with fatally shooting four people. Nagayama was subsequently sentenced to death and hanged.

The standards require courts to take into consideration nine points with particular emphasis on the cruelty in the way the victims were murdered and the number of victims. Courts across the country have since applied these standards to cases where prosecutors demanded the death penalty for defendants.

However, one of the AUM Shinrikyo cult members who carried out sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subway trains, leaving 12 people dead, was sentenced to life imprisonment on the grounds that his cooperation contributed to efforts to get to the bottom of the incident.

As is shown by the fact that the five justices who tried the Kitakyushu case were divided, judges tend to pay close attention to circumstances surrounding individual cases and the defendants' mental conditions in deciding whether to avoid the death penalty.

There are certain tendencies in judging whether to avoid the death penalty based on the number of victims, but no clear line has been drawn.

The top court's latest judgment that "the death penalty can be avoided if a defendant was in a mental condition in which it was difficult to disobey the mastermind's order at the time of the crime" will certainly have an influence on discussions on whether to choose the ultimate penalty under the lay-judge system. (By Junichi Ishikawa, Tokyo City News Department)

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Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007

Death sentence reduced for one of murderous pair

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) The Fukuoka High Court on Wednesday upheld the death penalty for a man deemed the main culprit in the deaths of seven people, including five of his common-law wife's relatives, from 1996 to 1998 in Kitakyushu.
The sentence issued to his common-law wife was reduced from capital punishment to life in prison.
Futoshi Matsunaga, 46, and Junko Ogata, 45, conspired to torture a 34-year-old man to death in February 1996 and then to murder five of Ogata's relatives, including her mother, in an apartment the couple shared with Ogata's family over a period of seven months ending in June 1998, according to a lower court ruling in September 2005.
The couple were also responsible for the death of Ogata's father, who died of injuries inflicted by the couple, although they did not intend to kill him, the 2005 ruling said.z