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Teen admits involvement in 2015 Kawasaki murder, ringleader appears in court as witness

YOKOHAMA -- An 18-year-old boy who, along with his two friends, was indicted for involvement in the 2015 murder of a 13-year-old boy, admitted to the charges against him during his first court hearing at the Yokohama District Court on March 2.

The defendant was 17 years old at the time of the murder of Ryota Uemura, who was found dead on a riverbank in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Kawasaki in February last year. The defendant, along with another 18-year-old, is charged with inflicting bodily injury resulting in the death of the victim. Another friend, a 19-year-old boy who headed the teen group, has been sentenced to nine to 13 years in prison for murder and other charges.

The 19-year-old leader appeared at the 18-year-old defendant's lay judge trial on March 2 as a witness and said that the group made Uemura swim in the Tama River and that the defendant "slashed the victim with a box cutter when he got out of the water."

The attorneys representing the 18-year-old defendant emphasized that he played a subordinate role in the case, arguing in the opening statement that the defendant was ordered by the ringleader to hurt the victim. The lawyers added that the defendant refused several times but then the leader threatened him at knifepoint and said that he would slash the defendant instead if he did not hurt Uemura.

The ringleader told public prosecutors at the hearing that he exchanged words with the defendant a few times before Uemura was attacked, where he told the defendant, "Do it," to which the latter replied, "I can't." However, the leader denied that he beat the defendant or yelled at him to force him to harm the victim.

The defense attorneys argued that while the defendant did slash Uemura on three parts of his body, none of them were deep cuts. The leader added that the defendant slashed the victim several times before he went into the water and after he emerged from the water.

The 19-year-old leader confessed that the defendant appeared to be hesitant about inflicting harm to the victim, saying that the defendant was telling Uemura, "Sorry," while slashing him with the box cutter.

The 18-year-old defendant lowered his eyes while the leader spoke at the court.

Meanwhile, public prosecutors revealed a deposition recorded during a juvenile trial of the other 18-year-old boy charged with inflicting bodily injury resulting in Uemura's death, in which the 18-year-old denies his involvement in the assault and says, "I think the leader placed a knife near the face of (the first 18-year-old) and told him that he would hurt him if he didn't slash Uemura."

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