Gangster faces death for shooting city mayor
A court in Japan convicted an alleged gangster and sentenced him to death Monday for the fatal shooting of a popular mayor in a crime that stunned a nation that takes pride in its rigid gun-control laws.
The defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to death Monday in Nagasaki District Court, court spokesman Hiroyuki Mano said.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, while the defense had argued that was too harsh.
Mayor Iccho Ito, 61, was shot twice in the back at close range outside a train station in April last year while campaigning for re-election for his fourth term.
The crime was lambasted as an act of violence that aimed to stifle democracy, and it also raised fears about guns on the streets as well as about organized crime in a nation that has long boasted a relatively crime-free record.
Tetsuya Shiroo, 60, who police say is a senior member of Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest organized crime syndicate, was arrested on the scene. He told police he was angry at the city for refusing to compensate him after his car was damaged at a public works construction site.
The assassination was the second attack in 20 years against a mayor of the southwestern city, whose politicians historically have been outspoken pacifists.
In 1990, Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima was shot and seriously wounded after saying that Japan's emperor bore some responsibility for World War II, enraging rightist-leaning nationalists. A right-wing terrorist was arrested in that attack.
One of Ito's daughters, Yuko Yokoo, welcomed the punishment as what the family had wanted.
"But even then, we the family are left with nothing," she said on nationally televised news. "We can only hope that this sends a message that such a crime will never be repeated."
Known as yakuza, gangsters are often involved in construction businesses, corporate extortion, gambling, the sex trade and drug trafficking.
According to the latest police report, gang members in Japan number about 84,200. They are behind two-thirds of Japan's reported shootings, which are still rare compared to in the United States and other nations at only 65 a year.
"We feel even stronger our determination to make Nagasaki a city free of gangsters," its current Mayor Tomohisa Taue said on NHK TV.
Ito was born in Nagasaki on August 23, 1945, just two weeks after the U.S. atomic bombing of the city towards the end of World War II. The other city to suffer atomic bombing was nearby Hiroshima.