Publisher records voices of death row inmates
August 2008

By Keiji Hirano


Hiroyuki Shinoda has published books and memorandums of unusual writers—death row inmates—despite criticism he should not present the excuses of notorious criminals.

‘‘I believe it’s necessary to record their voices to find out their motives and backgrounds of their crimes,’’ said the 56-year-old Shinoda, the chief of Tsukuru Publishing Co.

His projects, however, are destined to be cut off halfway, as seen in the case of Tsutomu Miyazaki, who was hanged at age 45 on June 17 for abducting and killing four little girls in the late 1980s.

The Tokyo-based publisher exchanged more than 300 letters with Miyazaki during the past 12 years to carry dozens of memorandums from the serial killer in his monthly magazine The Tsukuru (To Create), and issued two books by Miyazaki.

Many writings by Miyazaki, who was known to have destroyed his victims’ bodies and put a cardboard box containing a victim’s bones in front of her home, were largely incomprehensible to the public, with one of his letters to Shinoda noting he was thinking about how to sit in a comfortable position when faced with receiving the death sentence at the Tokyo District Court in 1997.

When the Tokyo High Court upheld the ruling in 2001, a court spectator shouted at Miyazaki, ‘‘Drop dead now, bastard!’’ But he wrote to Shinoda later, ‘‘I didn’t recognize such a thing, as I was sleeping...I became sleepy on the day, as usual, and I fell into a doze after the court hearing started.’’

Shinoda says he thinks it is still significant to make the writings public as they could be useful, for example, for psychiatric research.

Different evaluation results on Miyazaki’s mental state were presented in court, with one finding him mentally competent but suffering from a personality disorder, and the other partly denying he was mentally competent.

The Supreme Court determined in 2006 that Miyazaki had an extreme personality disorder but that he was mentally competent at the time of his crimes and able to bear criminal responsibility.

‘‘Miyazaki could have provided more clues to throw light on what prompted him to commit such a crime and to enable society to mull preventive measures,’’ Shinoda said. ‘‘But the state just terminated him physically. It clearly shows that the current judicial system is not effective enough for coping with inexplicable crimes.’’

Shinoda gives clear details about his association with Miyazaki, including the letters, in his book ‘‘Death Row Inmates’’ to be published by Chikuma Shobo Publishing Co in early August.

Another death row prisoner Shinoda presents in his upcoming book is Kaoru Kobayashi, who was convicted of kidnapping and killing a 7-year-old girl in Nara Prefecture in 2004.

In a memorandum issued in The Tsukuru in 2006, Kobayashi, 39, denied having an intention to kill the girl, contrary to his admitting to the murder charge in court, saying he had given the girl a narcotic to sexually abuse her. As a result, the girl died by drowning in the bathroom in his apartment.

He also said he had damaged the dead girl’s body in a cruel manner, and sent her photo and a threatening message to her mother via mobile phone, aware that what he had done would mean only the death penalty.

In his letter to Shinoda, Kobayashi said, ‘‘The girl died anyway, and her parents and I expect nothing but the death sentence even if the punishment is commutable’’ by the court’s recognition that she died accidentally. ‘‘So, I’m not thinking anymore about telling the truth in court.’’

As his death sentence was finalized recently, it has remained unexplained how the girl died actually, Shinoda said.

In their meeting, Shinoda recommended that Kobayashi offer an apology to the girl’s parents, but Kobayashi declined to do so, saying in his letter, ‘‘I had a terrible attitude to give the judges an unfavorable impression’’ so they would hand down the death sentence, according to Shinoda.

‘‘It is said that the death penalty serves as a deterrent against vicious crimes. However, it cannot be applied to Kobayashi, who wanted to die as he was alienated from his family and society,’’ Shinoda said. ‘‘He rather accelerated his cruel acts once he recognized he could receive the death penalty.’’

Looking back on his activities as an editor, Shinoda said, ‘‘It’s not a profitable business to publish the memorandums of criminals, maybe because people are reluctant to hear what they have to say.’’

But people have to prepare for listening to the voices of defendants in criminal court prior to introduction of the lay judge system next year, Shinoda suggested.

In his upcoming book, Shinoda also presents letters by Mamoru Takuma, who was hanged in 2004 at the age of 40 for killing eight children and injuring 15 others at an elementary school in Osaka in 2001, to his lawyer and his wife.

Takuma committed the crime as he hoped for immediate execution, making Shinoda wonder whether hanging Takuma or Kobayashi, who also wanted to die, actually meant punishment.

‘‘What does it mean for criminals to pay for their crimes?’’ he said. ‘‘I think it’s a kind of brain freeze if people consider the death penalty as the only effective and heavy punishment at a time when Japan is seeing many criminals whose motives are not fully explained.’’

He was apparently referring to the stabbing rampage in Tokyo’s Akihabara district in June, which left seven people dead, and similar incidents that have shocked a nation which has boasted of having a well-maintained public peace.