Monday, January 5, 2009

Nothing Worthwhile Could Come from His Execution

This article in last week's Japanese Daily Yomiuri, "Unmasking Capital Punishment: Victim's kin questions point of executions," features Masaharu Harada, the founder of MVFHR's Japanese affiliate group, Ocean:

As his body lay in the coffin, the man bore no traces of his agonizing death. Instead, he had a subtle smile.

The execution of death row inmate Toshihiko Hasegawa was carried out on Dec. 27, 2001, when he was 51. Two days later, his funeral was performed at a church in Nagoya. About 70 people attended the funeral, including Masaharu Harada, 61.

Akio, Masaharu's younger brother, was killed in January 1983 when he was 30 by Hasegawa and his accomplices. Akio was employed by Hasegawa as a truck driver. Hasegawa had taken out a life insurance policy on Akio and had him killed in collusion with two accomplices to collect the money. Hasegawa and one of the accomplices also killed two other people.

In his testimony at a district court hearing, Harada said he hoped Hasegawa would receive the death penalty, saying, "I believe there can never be any other punishment other than the death penalty."

After Hasegawa was sentenced by the district court, he began writing Harada letters of apology.

Harada, however, would throw the letters away unopened. Only once did he unfold one of the letters.

As his anguish over the tragedy faded, he decided to reply to Hasegawa.

"I am sorry for not to replying to you for so long," Harada wrote. The number of letters from Hasegawa increased, with some containing drawings of religious subjects that he drew "to express my feelings of atonement."

In the summer of 1993, just before Hasegawa's sentence was finalized, Harada visited the Nagoya Detention House.

Up until the moment he entered the interview room, Harada felt he might lose his temper with Hasegawa.

"I'm incredibly glad that you are so kind as to come here to meet me!" the death-row convict said to Harada.

Hasegawa seemed filled with joy while conveying his gratitude. Harada found his anger dwindling. Even after the death sentence against Hasegawa was finalized, Harada visited the detention house three times under special permits to see the convict.

Harada quoted Hasegawa as saying on one occasion, "Should I be allowed to get out of here, I would like to give your mother a massage, as I have learned massage techniques in my cell."

As Harada listened to Hasegawa during these visits, he came to feel that he was truly repentant and deeply cared about the bereaved families of the victims of the murders he was involved in.

"Although I had no intention of forgiving him, I wanted him to live and continue conveying his atonement with all his heart," Harada said. "My mind changed as I became aware that nothing worthwhile could come from his execution."

Harada has more than 100 letters and several drawings made with a ballpoint pen from Hasegawa.

In 2007, Harada founded an organization to encourage dialogue between crime victims and imprisoned criminals.

Once, when he interviewed a convict sentenced to die, Harada advised him to apologize from the bottom of his heart to his victims. ...

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