OSAKA -- A man accused of killing two youngsters in the summer of 2015 pleaded not guilty during the first hearing of a lay judge trial on the case at the Osaka District Court on Nov. 1.
"The indictment is wrong. I didn't have any intent to kill her," Koji Yamada, 48, testified during the trial over the death of 13-year-old girl Natsumi Hirata in August 2015, while admitting that he pressed against her neck. "Before I knew it, my hands were on Hirata's neck," he told the court.
As for the death of Hirata's 12-year-old junior high school classmate, Ryoto Hoshino, Yamada's defense counsel asserted that the boy died from some kind of poor physical condition.
The defendant's attorneys demanded charges carrying lighter sentences be applied to both cases, and contested whether their client was mentally competent to take criminal responsibility over the victims' deaths.
Hirata and Hoshino, both first-year students of a junior high school in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, in western Japan, went missing on the night of Aug. 12, 2015. The body of Hirata was found the next day at a parking lot in the city of Takatsuki north of Neyagaya in the same prefecture. Hoshino's body was discovered in a bamboo forest in the prefectural city of Kashiwara, south of Neyagaya, on Aug. 21. There were over 30 cuts on Hirata's body, and adhesive tape was put on the faces and hands of both victims.
Yamada was arrested on Aug. 21 that year on suspicion of abandoning the corpse of Hirata. He was subsequently indicted on charges of murdering the girl and boy by the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office. According to the indictment, Yamada is accused of suffocating Hirata and Hoshino on Aug. 13, 2015.
Since shortly after his arrest, Yamada has kept silent about the incidents. Because there is no direct evidence such as his confessions and witness accounts, prosecutors are trying to prove his intent to kill and the details of the murders by amassing as much circumstantial evidence as possible.
During their opening statement at the trial, prosecutors disclosed that traces of sleeping pills were detected in the victims' bodies. They also pointed out that Yamada had looked up the effect of the sleep-inducing drug "halcion" on children using a smartphone. Prosecutors also revealed that traces of suffocation were observed on the body of Hoshino.
Prosecutors asserted that Yamada had stayed in Kashiwara until around 9 p.m. on Aug. 13 and had suffocated Hoshino by around that time by pressing against his neck. The prosecution said they will prove their case through location information of Yamada's mobile phone and the circumstances when the victims' bodies were discovered.
While Yamada's defense attorneys admitted that Hirata died as a result of Yamada pressing against her neck, they demanded that the charge of injury resulting in death be applied to the case as it carries a lighter sentence. Regarding Hoshino's death, the attorneys demanded that the charge of abandonment by a person responsible for protection be applied on the grounds that the boy died of poor physical condition.
The defense lawyers also claimed that Yamada's capacity to be held criminally responsible had significantly deteriorated due to his autism spectrum disorder. They also insisted that the defendant had a diminished capacity.
At the outset of the hearing, Yamada voiced words of apology to the families of the victims.
There will be 10 more hearings in the trial, including questioning of the defendant, examination of experts' opinions and testimonies by the victims' families. Prosecutors will make their closing arguments on Nov. 21, and the court will hand down its ruling on Dec. 19.
(Japanese original by Koji Endo and Fumie Togami, Osaka City News Department)