KOBE – The Kobe District Court sentenced an 84-year-old woman to eight years in prison Wednesday for killing her husband last year in Hyogo Prefecture.
The case reflects a growing — although probably unnoticed — trend in Japan, where the number of elderly criminals is rising in line with the country’s graying population. It’s generally heinous, sensational crimes committed by or targeting young people that grab the headlines and prompt public outcries for crackdowns.
Hanako Okamoto received the sentence from presiding Judge Joji Igarashi at the court’s Himeji branch. “The crime was relentless, cruel and based on a strong murderous intent,” the judge said.
But he added, “It deserves sympathy that she could not tolerate her husband’s violence for a long time, and it is understandable, considering her age, that she was too ashamed to consult anyone about it.”
The judge rejected Okamoto’s counsel’s claim that she was mentally incompetent at that time.
Okamoto killed her husband of 50 years, Akira, 80, last July 11, beating his head with a hammer several times while he was asleep at their home in the city of Himeji and stabbing him with a kitchen knife as he tried to run away.
After killing him, she opened drawers in the house and told police two intruders had robbed them.
“An eight-year prison term is too long, considering the defendant’s age and the violence she was receiving,” Tsutomu Nakamura, Okamoto’s lawyer, said after the ruling. “I would like to talk with the defendant about what to do now.”
Prosecutors had demanded Okamoto be sentenced to 13 years in prison.
In 1998, the Nagoya District Court sentenced Hisa Kawai, 96, to three years in prison for killing her mentally ill 63-year-old son in a failed murder-suicide in January that year.
In October 1998, however, the Nagoya High Court gave the woman a suspended sentence after considering her age as well as the agony she had been through. The woman died in the same month from illness.
In 2000, the Tsu District Court in Mie Prefecture gave Takeichi Nishikawa, 89, a three-year prison term for fatally stabbing his son, 62, after a series of quarrels.
According to Justice Ministry statistics, convicted criminals aged 60 and over serving time across the country exceeded 10 percent of the total prison population for the first time in 2005. However, the statistics do not indicate when the elderly prisoners began serving their time.
Commenting on Wednesday’s ruling, Kyoji Asakura, an author of novels based on actual criminal cases, said, “Just because the accused are old doesn’t mean they can get leniency.
“But in many cases involving elderly criminals, they are also the victims of violence,” he said.