SAITAMA (TR) – Upon the arrest last year of Shinji Minato, 46, on suspicion of attempted murder, news outlets provided very little coverage of the story. The few articles that did appear provided little information about the suspect, merely saying that he is unemployed.
However, quite a bit is known about Minato: He was one of four youths convicted in the killing of Junko Furuta, 17, whose corpse was found packed in concrete inside an oil drum dumped in Tokyo’s Koto Ward in 1989.
The case became widely known not only due to the graphic nature of the repeated beatings and sexual assaults endured by the victim but also the perception that the perpetrators received lenient sentences.
Considering Minato’s past, the scant media coverage is not the only thing odd about his latest arrest. According to the site for weekly tabloid Friday, the trial, which began on February 1, is becoming unpredictable and borderline dubious.
Suspicions started even before the trial began. First, Minato was only indicted for allegedly inflicting injury. Further, the trial does not include lay judges as planned. Rather, a single judge is presiding.
Allegedly slashed the victim’s throat with a knife
According to the indictment, Minato allegedly beat a 32-year-old male company employee in the right shoulder with a metal baton on a road in Kawaguchi City, Saitama on the afternoon of August 19. He also allegedly slashed the victim’s throat with a knife.
According to police, the victim was transported to a hospital in a conscious state with light injuries.
Upon his arrest, Minato denied the allegations. “I beat and hit [the victim], but I did not intend to kill,” the suspect was quoted.
The defendant’s testimony changed at the opening of his trial. “It’s not correct that I beat [the victim] in the right shoulder with a baton,” he told the court in commenting on the revised charge of inflicting injury. However, the defendant did acknowledge stabbing the victim.
Junko Furuta murder
In November, 1988, Minato (then using the first name Nobuharu) and Hiroshi Miyano (now using the surname Yokoyama), worked together to abduct Junko Furuta as she commuted home from a part-time job.
Thereafter, Minato and Miyano, then aged 15 and 18, respectively, and two other youths took her to a residence in the Ayase area of Adachi Ward where they repeatedly raped, sodomized and tortured her over a 44-day period.
On January 4, 1989, Furuta died after the youths set her on fire. The boys then wrapped her body in blankets and packed it in an oil drum along with concrete. The drum was then dumped at what is today Wakase Park.
After Miyano and one other youth, Jo Ogura, then 17, were arrested in another rape case, police uncovered their involvement in the disappearance of Furuta. During questioning, Miyano told police where to find her body, which was found on March 29.
A court later handed the youths differing prison sentences: Minato, between five and nine years; Ogura, between five and 10 years; and Miyano 20 years. The fourth youth, Yasushi Watanabe, then 16, received a term of between five and seven years.
Minato is the third of the four convicted killers to be arrested again. Watanabe is the only one of the four to avoid further trouble with the law.
In the Saitama case, Minato’s second hearing was held on March 3. During the proceedings, Minato changed his story yet again.
The defense said that it wanted to take a photograph of the victim’s scar as it is now as evidence, a request that the court denied. Minato then decided to directly hand the judge a letter. “I did not, myself, stab him,” the letter read.
After the judge scolded the defense for not submitting the document through the defendant’s lawyer, the victim then took the stand. He told the court that on the day of the incident he was driving home from a barbecue party with a colleague in the passenger seat of his vehicle.
Upon passing Minato on a road, the victim noticed the defendant glaring at him. “What are you looking at?” the victim said through his open window. The defendant then punched him.
A fracas broke out. At one point, Minato knocked one of the lenses from the frame of the victim’s glasses. Thereafter, the victim’s colleague exited the vehicle and got into a scrape with the defendant.
The victim managed to shove Minato down to break up the fight, but the defendant allegedly beat him with the baton. With the victim shedding blood, he and his colleague retreated to the vehicle. But the defendant then allegedly slashed him in the neck as he tried to drive off to the hospital.
Much of the remainder of the hearing was filled with the incoherent ramblings of Minato, according to Friday, with the defendant claiming that the stabbing was a “fabrication.”
“Are you saying that you did not slash [the victim] in the neck with a knife and that the wound, for argument’s sake, was a fabrication by a doctor?” the judge asked.
“More likely the police than a doctor!” Minato shouted during the hearing.
“Defeat of juvenile law”
In the Furuta case, the criminal proceedings were conducted with the defendants considered as juveniles. The sentences that were subsequently handed down were widely viewed as lenient.
An article appearing in Shukan Shincho (Sept. 6, 2018) described the subsequent arrests of the three convicted killers as a “defeat of the juvenile law.”
A sub-headline in the aforementioned article noted that basically no media outlets reported on Minato being one of the four murderers upon his arrest last year. And, given the state of his current trial, which is also not being covered, one might wonder if justice will ever be served.