Ibaraki prefectural police on Thursday appealed to the public for any information that might help them find four men who killed a 17-year-old youth in a supermarket parking lot in Ushiku on May 4, 2000.
The victim, Taiki Fujii, a construction worker, was in the parking lot with his girlfriend early that morning when four youths picked a fight with him. The gang beat Fujii, then robbed him and fled. The girl was unharmed. Fujii died nine days later from brain contusions.
Police on Thursday handed out flyers at gas stations, convenience stores and railway stations in the vicinity of the crime scene, asking anyone with any information to come forward, Sankei Shimbun reported.
On Tuesday, police also took the unusual step of posting on their website a video of street surveillance camera footage of four young people, taken 90 minutes after the crime at a convenience store 2 kms away from the crime scene. It is the first time that video footage of possible juvenile suspects in a murder case has been released to the public.
However, police said the four youths in the video footage may be considered “witnesses” rather than suspects. The law does not permit police to publicly release video footage of suspects who may be minors (younger than 20).
In May 2004, police circulated portraits of the four suspects, based on descriptions given by the victim’s girlfriend, but there has been no breakthrough in the case. Prefectural police are now hoping someone may recognise one or more of the four in the video footage, even though it was taken 17 years ago.
In recent years, the National Police Agency (NPA) has come under increasing pressure to disclose more information on juvenile offenders. In December 2013, in a major change in policy, the NPA decided to publish names and photos (but not video footage) of minors wanted in connection with serious crimes.
In February this year, the justice ministry formed a panel to study lowering the age of criminal adulthood to 18 from 20. Currently offenders under the age of 20 receive special treatment in line with the law, including being sent to juvenile correctional facilities.
However, opponents of lowering the age of criminal adulthood could deprive 18- and 19-year-old offenders of rehabilitation opportunities.
The number of arrests involving suspects aged below 20 has been declining since 1998, when there were around 184,000 cases, according to a government white paper on crime. The figure stood at around 48,000 in 2015.© Japan Today/Kyodo