Satoru Nomura, 74, president of the Kudo-kai gang in Kitakyushu City, was sentenced to death in August 2021 after being convicted of murder in four attacks on ordinary citizens. In addition to the fact that this is the first time that a top gang leader has been sentenced to death, the issue of whether the death penalty is appropriate for a single murder victim was also raised.
What are the criteria for the death penalty?
The so-called “Nagayama criteria” are used to determine the application of the death penalty in criminal trials. The motive for the crime, cruelty, premeditation, the number of victims killed, and the social impact of the crime are all considered. In Nomura’s case, he was charged with one count of murder for the shooting death of the former head of a fishing cooperative, and three counts of attempted murder, including the shooting of a former Fukuoka police captain.
A lawyer familiar with criminal trials explains the ruling.
He said, “If we assume 1.0 victim for murder and 0.5 victims x 3 for attempted murder, it can be considered that he killed 2.5 people in total, which is enough to be sentenced to death. Even the crime of attempted murder involves a dangerous act, so it is judged in the same way as the crime of murder. In the case of the defendant Nomura, it is considered that he was sufficiently on the playing field to be judged for the death penalty.
The trend in sentencing in recent years has been that even in cases of a single murder victim, the death penalty has been sought by the prosecution in 32% of the cases. In the case of two victims, 59% of the sentences are death sentences, and in the case of three victims, 79% of the sentences are death sentences, and in the case of a robbery-murder of three victims, 100% of the sentences are death sentences.
A senior police official who has been involved in investigations of murder, robbery, and other heinous crimes in the field expressed the same sentiment, saying, “There have been many death sentences even in murder cases with only one victim.
“For example, robbery and murder for money, or kidnapping and murdering a child for ransom. There are also cases where a single victim has been executed, such as the murder of a woman for the purpose of rape. The sentence is heavier in cases of some kind of avarice. This is a matter of course.
Looking back at the latest verdicts from this perspective, the former fishermen’s union chief’s shooting death and the stabbing of a male dentist were judged to have been committed for financial gain, as they occurred over the interest of port construction.
What will the Superior Court decide?
In the past, even when the perpetrators of gang-related crimes were arrested, they would remain silent about whether or not they were given instructions by the top management, which often stopped the police from investigating the upper echelons of the organization. However, in the case of the murder of Kazuo Goto, president of the Tasaburo family of the Yamaguchi-gumi Yamaken-gumi, which occurred in Kobe City in May 2007, it was found that Kuniharu Inoue, leader of the Kenkoku clan of the same Yamaken-gumi, had instructed the perpetrator to kill him, and the sentence of 20 years in prison was confirmed.
In this case, the Kobe District Court in February 2012 acquitted the prosecution’s request for a 25-year sentence, but in January 2014, the Osaka High Court reversed the decision, stating that it was unnatural and unusual for a member of the gang to kill without the order of the gang leader.
In March 2001, the Osaka District Court acquitted Tsukasa, but in February 2004, the Osaka High Court sentenced him to six years in prison. In February 2004, the Osaka High Court sentenced Tsukasa to six years in prison.
In February 2004, the Osaka High Court sentenced Tsukasa to six years in prison. The Osaka High Court pointed out that there was a “factual error” in the first trial judgment, and reiterated, “There were members of the Kodo-kai clan who acted as security around the defendant Tsukasa. In the Koudoukai, if a member possesses a gun and fires it for the organization, he is selected afterwards. The court found him guilty based on the indirect evidence that there was a tacit understanding between the gang leader and the bodyguard.
The court tended to evaluate the investigators’ meticulous accumulation of circumstantial evidence. For this reason, the aforementioned lawyer said, based on the judgments in these cases, “The Supreme Court has endorsed that the yakuza are superior and have communication with their bosses. It is a well-established precedent.
As for Nomura, he said, “Even if the judges of the Fukuoka High Court make a strict decision, the death penalty will be upheld in the second trial because it is an established precedent. It is unlikely that they will reduce the sentence or issue a verdict of factual error.
The dominant opinion in the legal community is that Nomura’s appeal will be dismissed and the death sentence will be upheld in the second trial. If that happens, the impact on both the investigators and the gangsters will be even greater.
Reporting and writing by： Masahiro Ojima
Nonfiction writer. Worked at the Sankei Shimbun, where he was in charge of the National Police Agency Press Club, the Metropolitan Police Department Cap, the Kanagawa Prefectural Police Cap, the Judicial Press Club, and the National Tax Agency Press Club, before going freelance. Author of "Kaizaiya to Bubble" (Bunshun Shinsho).
Photo： Kyodo News Co.