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Japanese courts rule on sumo wrestler death: From PNA/Kyodo

From PNA/Kyodo
NAGOYA, Dec. 18 — The Nagoya District Court on Thursday sentenced three sumo wrestlers to two-and-a-half to three years in prison, suspended for five years, for the fatal hazing of a 17-year-old stablemate last year in Aichi Prefecture.

The court also determined that the stablemaster at the time instructed the three to assault Takashi Saito, given the ring name Tokitaizan, and recognized the excessive sparring session they conducted on the teen deviated from normal training and was an illegal act of violence.

Yuichiro Izuka, 26, Masakazu Kimura, 25, and Masanori Fujii, 23, had pleaded guilty but said during their trial that they hazed Saito under the instructions of their then stablemaster Tokitsukaze, whose real name is Junichi Yamamoto.

Yamamoto, 58, is awaiting a separate trial for his involvement in the case.

Prosecutors had demanded three-and-a-half-year prison terms for Izuka and Kimura and a three-year sentence for Fujii for inflicting bodily injuries resulting in Saito’s death.

But the court’s ruling constituted suspended terms of three years each for Izuka and Kimura and two-and-a-half years for Fujii.

The three will not appeal the ruling, their lawyer said.

“The act was contemptible and malicious,” Presiding Judge Masaharu Ashizawa said. “The roles played by each of the three was big, but the stablemaster’s supervision had strong influence and it was difficult for them to disobey him.”

Concerning the assault inflicted on Saito over two days in June 2007, Ashizawa said the three abided by their stablemaster’s instructions seeing that it was “absolute.”

“It cannot be denied that the three wanted to straighten up the victim, but the (stablemaster’s) instructions make up the biggest part in terms of their motive,” the presiding judge said.

Ashizawa also suggested it could be said that corporal punishment was a usual practice at sumo stables.

According to the ruling, the three wrestlers and Yamamoto conspired in beating Saito and subjecting him to excessive exercise at their lodging and training places in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, June 25-26 last year.

On the first day, the three beat Saito, including using a wooden stick to hit him, under instructions from Yamamoto, who was upset that the teenager had fled from their lodging area.

The next morning, they subjected the victim to an excessive sparring session for about 30 minutes, during which they slammed him on the ground and beat him with a metal bat.

Saito collapsed after the sparring session and died at a hospital on the afternoon of June 26, 2007.

The cause of death was initially believed to have been acute heart failure, leading police to determine at first that there was no foul play.

But an autopsy conducted at the request of the victim’s family later revealed that Saito had actually died from shock as a result of multiple trauma.

After another autopsy confirmed the cause of death, police arrested Yamamoto and the three wrestlers in February on suspicion of inflicting injuries resulting in the death of the young wrestler, who joined the Tokitsukaze stable in April 2007. (PNA/Kyodo)

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By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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