Statute of limitations in murder cases axed

Kyodo News

In a rare move, Justice Minister Keiko Chiba enforced a new law Tuesday abolishing the statute of limitations for murder on the same day the bill passed the Diet so an unsolved 1995 murder case wouldn’t expire at midnight.

The bill for amending the code of criminal procedure was enacted in a Lower House plenary session in the afternoon.

On April 28, 1995, farmer Haruhiko Sunami, 70, and his wife, Midori, 66, were found decapitated inside their burned-down home in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. A kitchen knife was found in the farmer’s stomach.

Chiba did not initially plan to enforce the bill immediately but began to work toward it as soon as she learned about the Sunami case, according to government sources. The bill passed the Upper House on April 14.

Procedures after a law is enacted usually take about a week, during which it is first brought before the Cabinet and then explained to the Emperor, before finally being published in an official gazette for promulgation.

The latest amendment abolishes the statute of limitations on serious capital crimes and doubles almost all prison terms for crimes other than murder that result in death.

The amendment applies to dozens of unresolved murder cases since 1995.

These include the slaying in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, of Mikio Miyazawa, 44, his wife and their two children, who were killed while sleeping in their home on Dec. 30, 2000. The Metropolitan Police Department is still asking the public for any information about the case.

Recent unresolved murders include the slaying of Miyako Hiraoka, a 19-year-old college student in Shimane Prefecture who went missing in late October.

Hiraoka, a first-year student at Shimane University, was last seen the night of Oct. 26 while she was walking home from her part-time job in Hamada.

Parts of her dismembered body were found early in November on a mountain straddling the border with Hiroshima Prefecture.