With a capital punishment sentence having been finalized by the Supreme Court in the 1999 murders of a woman and her infant daughter by a minor, the woman’s husband, said, “Social justice has at last been done,” at a press conference on Monday.
Looking back on nearly 13 years of anguish after the killings of his wife, Yayoi, 23, and the couple’s 11-month-old daughter, Yuka, at their home in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in April 1999, Hiroshi Motomura, 35, said, “A death sentence has been given, with which I felt satisfied, but not with any sense of joy or happiness.”
The top court rejected an appeal by a 30-year-old man who was given the death penalty by a high court in 2008 for strangling Yayoi after breaking into their apartment in the guise of a maintenance worker on April 14, 1999, in an attempt to rape her. The man also strangled Yuka, their 11-month-old daughter, as she kept crying. He then stole Yayoi’s purse after committing necrophilia, according to the Hiroshima High Court ruling in April 2008.
When the Supreme Court’s first petty bench session began, Motomura was seated in the gallery with a photo of Yayoi and Yuka on his lap.
Following the court decision, Motomura said to his wife’s mother, “I imagine you must have had truly harsh times for so long.”
In a press conference at the court press club, Motomura began by saying he felt neither pleasant nor happy to hear the decision, though he was satisfied with the sentence against the defendant, Takayuki Otsuki, 30.
He went on to say he had been in agony for nearly 13 years over “whether it was in the interest of justice, to give him [Otsuki] a chance of living or to have him atone for what he did at the expense of his life.”
“Given that Japan is a country governed by the rule of law, however, I came to think if the value of human lives is so precious as to consider it inevitable for a person to receive the death penalty if he murders because of a self-centered motive.”
Referring to what he thought about the defendant’s state of mind, Motomura said, “I think he should become increasingly aware of the depth of his offenses as his own death is approaching.”
“So I hope he can manage to tackle the days to come, however severe they might be, and accept the punishment.”
Recounting the days after the murders, Motomura said he had felt deep remorse, thinking he should have been able to save his wife and daughter from such misery.
The incident took place about 10 months after the Motomuras began their marriage in his company’s dormitory.
He said he could never forget his wife’s smile when he left that morning with Yuka crawling behind her.
“However, I was able do some small things as a way of atonement as I, by joining with families of other heinous crimes, managed to help expand the rights of crime victims.”
At Yayoi and Yuka’s graves on Tuesday, he said he would tell their souls about the outcome and what he did for other victims, he said.
Motomura was one of the founding members of a nationwide organization, launched in January 2000, for the expansion of the rights of victims of felonious crimes.
In response to movements staged by the organization and other anticrime and human rights bodies, the Law for the Protection of Crime Victims was passed in November 2000, empowering crime victims or their bereaved families to access and make copies of criminal case court documents.
In April 2005, the Basic Law for the Rights of Crime Victims was passed, guaranteeing victims’ rights.
Another step in victims’ rights protection was taken in December 2008, when a system was put in place to allow victims to question the accused and say what penalties they wanted for the accused in court.
Motomura remarried in 2009 and his new wife made it a rule to visit Yayoi and Yuka’s graves on the anniversary of their deaths to pray for their souls, he said.
“I was able to come to this point thanks to support from people around me,” he said, adding, “There is no winner in the court’s decision.”
“Once a criminal offense has taken place, all people involved are bound to lose,” Motomura noted. “I have been strongly hoping to see our tragedy serving as an opportunity for many people to ponder the capital punishment system and ways to lessen crime, as the lay judge system has now been launched,” he said.
Defense counsel’s protest
Otsuki’s defense counsel issued a written protest against the ruling, arguing the decision was “extremely unjust.”
“However serious the results of this crime were, it is never justifiable to impose the death penalty on a minor whose mind is not mature, as Otsuki was barely 18 years old at the time of the crime,” it said.
According to the defense lawyers, Otsuki has recently begun soul-searching and expressing apologies over the crimes.