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October 28, 2008

Japan continues its stepped up pace of executions

Here is a good trivia question for the sentencing cocktail parties: What do Japan and Texas have in comming these days?  The answer, as detailed in this BBC News story and this AP story, is that both jurisdictions are now executing death row defendants at the same accelerated pace.

I have previously blogged here about the busy times for the death chamber in Texas.  Here are details from the BBC about Japan's recent execution surge:

Japan has hanged two convicted murderers, including one who strangled two schoolgirls with his bare hands.  The latest executions bring the total number of death penalties implemented this year to 15, thought to be the highest total in many years.  Last year, Japan executed nine convicted killers.

Japan is one of the few countries in Asia which has stepped up its use of the death penalty, despite international condemnation.

The two people hanged on Tuesday were Michitoshi Kuma, 70, and Masahiro Takashio, 55, the justice ministry said in a statement. Kuma kidnapped two seven-year-old girls on their way to school in southern Japan in February 1992 and strangled them, dumping their bodies in the mountains.  Takashio was convicted of breaking into a house in northern Japan in March 2004 and stabbing a 55-year-old woman and her 83-year-old mother to death before stealing 50,000 yen, or about $500....

Three people were executed in September.  Executions are not announced beforehand and are carried out in secret, usually with strong local support....

[W]hile rights groups decry the use of the death penalty, without exception, public opinion in Japan seems to support its continued use. It is thought that about 100 convicted murderers and others on death-row are awaiting execution.

October 28, 2008 at 08:36 AM | Permalink


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People may not have as big a problem with the death penalty if every potential death row inmate had a complete DNA test done in order to prove/disprove his/her guilt. However, many innocent, mentally handicapped and people who were simply the wrong color have been put to death needlessly.

Posted by: JT | Oct 28, 2008 11:19:47 AM

Many death row inmates have had their cases subject to DNA testing or otherwise have never disputed their guilt. Yet there still seems to be vocal opposition to the death penalty. In addition, the Supreme Court has precluded the execution of persons with mental retardation, yet there still is plenty of vocal opposition to the death penalty. In addition, the race of the murdered has very little impact on the operation of the death penalty (although the race of the victim and socio-economic realities do).

In other words, JT, it seems that many people do have a big problem with the death penalty even when the issues you raised are addressed in various ways.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 28, 2008 11:50:11 AM

Doug, where's your evidence that race of the victim has an "impact on the operation of the death penalty"? Could it be that the so-called race of the victim effect is correlation, not causation?

Posted by: | Oct 28, 2008 12:56:35 PM

Yes, JT, I strongly suspect that Michitoshi Kuma and Masahiro Takashio are black and that their victims were white. They were probably tried in the American South as well. The news article didn't mention these things because it can't handle the inconvenient truth.

Posted by: | Oct 28, 2008 1:05:23 PM

In U. Md. study, the race-of-victim effect declined into the statistical grass when the venue was controlled. A spurious race-of-victim effect appeared in uncontrolled statewide data. As just about everyone involved on either side in capital cases knows, the urban jurisdictions elect prosecutors who seek the death penalty less often for middle-range murders, and they form juries who impose it less often when it is asked in that range. These urban jurisdictions have greater percentages of black residents and black-victim homicides, and hence the lower death sentencing rates in them skews the statewide data on race if the study fails to control for this effect.

Opponents call the local variation "geographic disparity." I call it local democracy and jury of the vicinage working as designed.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 28, 2008 1:11:26 PM

Kent, Justice Stevens probably doesn't agree with your assessment, given his recent pronouncement on the death penalty and black on white murders.

The other issue with respect to urban jurisdictions is a resources per murder issue. Given the constraints imposed on the death penalty by the courts, there is no way that many urban centers could vigorously seek death (with Harris County, Texas being an exception) even if they wanted to. This is also an issue in rural jurisdictions, but this doesn't impact the numbers much, as relatively few murders are committed in rural areas.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 28, 2008 2:44:16 PM

Maybe support for the death penalty is a matter of nutrition. McDonald's went big in Japan in 2001 and executions increased. Is there a correlation between killing cows and killing people? Or maybe trans fats makes people favor the flavor of executions.

Japan eats up McDonald's stock

"McDonald's Japan is the biggest of McDonald's overseas operations, as well as the first to sell shares to the public."

Posted by: | Oct 28, 2008 4:17:42 PM

It appears that Michitoshi Kuma was wrongfully conficted based on flawed DNA testing. Another unfortunate similarity to Texas where another innocent man was executed last year.


Posted by: Rianne | Oct 29, 2009 10:02:18 AM

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