Japan executed three death row inmates Tuesday, Justice Minister Eisuke Mori announced, conducting its first hangings in six months and the first since the lay judge system was launched in May.
It was the third round of hangings under Mori, bringing the total executed under him to nine. The previous hangings took place Jan 29.
The three executed Tuesday are Yukio Yamaji, 25, who was convicted of killing two sisters in Osaka in 2005, Chen Detong, a 41-year-old Chinese national who killed three Chinese in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, in 1999, and Hiroshi Maeue, 40, who killed three people he met through a website for people planning to commit suicide in 2005, according to ministry officials.
The executions brought the total number of death row inmates to 101, of whom 63 are seeking retrials. The three executed Tuesday are assumed not to have been asking for new trials as it is believed that would normally preclude them from being put on the execution list.
The executions of the three were all carried out in two to three years after their death sentences were finalized, indicating a trend of shortening the waiting period.
''I did not consider the pace of executions (when making the decision),'' Mori said during a press conference.
Executions had been carried out at a pace of one every two to three months under Kunio Hatoyama, who assumed the post of justice minister in 2007. The minister is responsible for signing execution orders.
But they have become less frequent under Mori, who has voiced doubts over a Cabinet Office survey in 2004 that showed over 80 percent of Japanese people supported the death penalty.
He has also welcomed public debate over the death penalty as a result of the introduction of the lay judge system, under which citizens and professional judges must together judge serious criminal cases and decide on penalties including death.
The latest executions brought mixed reactions from people involved in the cases.
''I feel better now,'' said Kazuo Uehara, 60, whose two daughters -- Asuka, 27, and Chihiro, 19 -- were murdered by Yamaji in their apartment.
Shingo Uchiyama, who served as Yamaji's lawyer in an earlier case in which he killed his mother when he was a teen, expressed regret at the execution, saying, ''To a certain degree, I had expected this. But I wanted to hear his true feelings, even just a single word. I wanted to tell him that I want him to live.''
Yamaji had said ''I was not supposed to be born'' in a letter addressed to his lawyer, and withdrew his appeal against his death sentence given in 2006. He said he wanted to be executed within six months after his death sentence was finalized in May 2007.
Chen, who killed three compatriots and seriously injured two others by stabbing them in revenge for an assault on him, had told Forum 90, a civic group opposed to the death penalty, in response to a survey that he would do anything to make up for what he did.
''Whatever the bereaved families want me to do, I will do. If they want my life, I will give it to them,'' he wrote, but he also said he did not think he would get the death sentence and mentioned his hope to return to his country.
Maeue, who killed three people including a 14-year-old boy by suffocating them for sexual satisfaction, said in response to the survey that ''I have many things I think about the death penalty system,'' but did not elaborate.© Wire reports