Death Penalty Not Possible for Okamoto
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Death Penalty Not Possible for Okamoto

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The composition of the three-man military tribunal that will try Kozo Okamoto precludes the death penalty for the Japanese “kamikaze” gunman captured in the Lydda Airport massacre May 30, it was disclosed today. The three members appointed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. David Elazar, includes only one lawyer, Avraham Frish, who will serve as president of the tribunal. According to Israeli law, a military court may impose capital punishment only if at least two of its members are jurists.

The other members named by Gen. Elazar are Baruch Arbel and Ram Evron. All three hold the rank of Lt. Col. The Israel Bar Association meanwhile was looking for a new lawyer to defend Okamoto. Yaacob Hagler, a prominent Tel Aviv attorney selected as defense counsel by the Bar Association, resigned last night after two meetings with the prisoner. He charged that Okamoto refused to cooperate. Okamoto reportedly has said he wants to be executed.

Hagler said he could not agree “to sit in court like a dummy.” He said such a situation would serve neither justice nor the defendant and would be inimical to his professional reputation. Itzhak Tunik, chairman of the Bar Association said last night that he was negotiating with other lawyers who might undertake Okamoto’s defense. The trial is scheduled to open officially in Rehovoth tomorrow but an adjournment is expected to allow for the completion of technical matters. These include finding a hall big enough to accommodate the large number of journalists and spectators expected to attend the trial.

A complication arose yesterday when the Bar Association learned that a leftist Japanese lawyer, Hiroshi Shoji, was on his way to Israel to defend Okamoto on behalf of his family. The Association here had a letter from the Japanese Bar Association asking it to help Shoji carry out his assignment.

According to Israeli law, only a member of the Israeli Bar may appear in court on behalf of a client. An exception was made in 1961 when Dr. Robert Servatius, a West German lawyer, served as defense counsel for Adolf Eichmann. But it took a special bill passed by the Knesset to allow that arrangement. The Bar Association has cabled their Japanese colleagues explaining the situation.

Lt. Col. David Israeli, the chief military prosecutor, presented an indictment against Okamoto Friday consisting of four charges, three of which could have resulted in the death penalty had the tribunal’s composition permitted it. Okamoto and his two companions, Okudeira Takashi and Yassouda Yassuki, both slain, are charged with causing the deaths of 24 persons and injuries to more than 76 others; shooting firearms and throwing hand grenades; and working in the service of an illegal organization. All of the charges are violations of the Israeli emergency regulations retained from the British Mandatory regime in Palestine.

The list of prosecution witnesses names 14 persons including police officers, airport porters and technicians, relatives of the victims and surviving members of a group of Puerto Rican tourists who were shot at by the gunmen.

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