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Killers of Mika Iji escape death rap; sentenced to life

Date Posted: 1998-03-27

Suenori Yanagi, 40, and Masaru Ueno, 38, two weeks ago convicted convicted of killing and raping Nago teenager Mika Iji, in Jun. 1996, were sentenced to life in prison by Naha District Court, Tuesday. They were found guilty by the court three weeks ago.

In sentencing the two, Chief Justice Hidefumi Hayashi stated that the two deserved the life sentence since the two men "committed the most heinous of crimes and caused immeasurable grief and pain to members of Iji family." He also said that the sentence is befitting because there is no chance that the two could be rehabilitated.

The prosecution had sought death penalty for the two, and announced immediately their intention to seek the punishment in higher courts. "In our opinion, only death penalty is severe enough for a crime like this," they said in a statement.

The defense lawyers expressed their satisfaction that they had been successful arguing against the death sentence. "I think that the sentence is just. We were able to prove that the accused did not premeditate their crime, and thus didn't deserve the death penalty," they stated after the sentence was read out. The defense also pointed out that the two had sincerely apologized to Iji's family, and shown deep remorse throughout the court proceedings.

Iji's disappearance and suspected kidnapping parked the largest search and rescue operation in Okinawa's history which ended after Ueno who was apprehended on another charge confessed to the crime and lead the authorities to Iji's grave on New Year's Day in 1997. Yanagi gave himself in shortly thereafter.

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