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Defense argues for lives of Mika Ija’s accused killers

Date Posted: 1998-02-28

Defense submitted its final arguments, Tue., at Naha District Court, on the trial of Suemori Yanagi, 40, and Masaru Ueno, 38, both on trial for the rape and murder of Mika Iji, 15. The crime took place Jun. 21, 1996 and sparked the largest searching operation in Okinawa's history with over 10,000 people taking part. The crime was solved with the arrest of the accused, who then lead the authorities to the grave of Iji on New Year's Day 1997.

The prosecutors had submitted their case to the court two weeks ago. They demanded that both be handed death sentence since the crime was especially heinous and cruel.

The lawyers for both Yanagi and Ueno argued against the death penalty on the grounds that the two did not plan to kill Iji from the beginning but instead did so on impulse after raping her. "The whole unfortunate incident started almost as something as a joke that horribly got out of hand," the lawyers said. They also argued that both men showed deep remorse over their crime, a point of great importance in the Japanese legal system.

The lawyer for Yanagi pointed out that his client gave himself in voluntarily and that he shows that he regrets what he has done. "This also should be taken into account when the court decides on the sentence," he said.

Uema's lawyer argued that the idea of killing the girl after she was raped was Yanagi's, an accusation the Yanagi's side vehemently denies. The lawyers also argued that it's fundamentally wrong for the state to kill its own citizens for any reason.

At the court, both men apologized for the family of the girl, and said that they were ready to take responsibility for their crime. Both stated that they were ready to accept any punishment the court would decide. The sentencing of the two is scheduled for Mar. 17.

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