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'I had to do it for society': Conversations with accused Japan care home mass murderer

In this illustration, mass murder suspect Satoshi Uematsu speaks with the Mainichi Shimbun during one of a series of interviews at a detention center in Yokohama, south of Tokyo. (Illustration by Yuya Kohama)

YOKOHAMA -- Accused mass murderer Satoshi Uematsu will admit to killing 19 people and injuring 26 others at a care home for the disabled south of Tokyo when his trial begins in January next year, the 29-year-old has revealed to the Mainichi Shimbun in a series of interviews.

Uematsu is currently in detention awaiting trial for the killings at the Tsukui Yamayuri En (Tsukui Lily Garden) care facility in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, in the predawn hours of July 26, 2016. According to the indictment, Uematsu broke a window to access the building to carry out the murders. The trial is set to start on Jan. 8, 2020 at the Yokohama District Court, which will conduct hearings on the case 26 times before handing down its judgment on March 16, if all goes to schedule.

The Mainichi conducted its first interview with Uematsu on March 1, 2017, and went on to speak with the accused 25 more times, questioning him on his motives among other aspects of the murders. During a meeting on Nov. 25 this year, Uematsu told Mainichi reporters that he would not dispute the accusations against him, and "admit" all in court.

When asked what sort of place a court was, Uematsu replied, "Even if there are some things that I'm being told of that I oppose, basically it (the court) is a place where I will apologize to all the people I've caused trouble to," he said, referring to the victims, their families and everyone associated with the care home, where he had worked for a time before the mass killing. And while he said that he was "sorry to the bereaved families," Uematsu also repeatedly stated that it "couldn't be helped."

During a Feb. 2, 2018 interview, Uematsu told the Mainichi that his work caring for the mentally disabled residents at Tsukui Lily Garden had been "easy, but I also thought it was a useless job." "There was no reason for them to live," he insisted, referring to the residents by a term he devised himself that translates roughly as "people with failed minds." He added, "I had to do it (kill the residents) for the sake of society."

When the subject of sentencing came up, Uematsu told the Mainichi, "If I'm not capable of taking responsibility for myself, then I'd prefer the death penalty. I don't want the subject of my ability to take responsibility brought up at the trial." Uematsu also said, however, that he was "scared to die."

At another meeting in December 2018, Uematsu said, "I'd do anything if it meant I could avoid execution. Anything's fine if I get a lighter sentence," contradicting his comments from earlier that year. Asked what he thought would be an appropriate punishment, Uematsu replied, "About 20 years. That's what I feel."

Returning to the subject in April this year, he said with a downcast expression, "I want the people who hand down death sentences to think about the realities," and, "I didn't do anything that would warrant the death penalty." Then in July, he stated that a heavy sentence would be "unavoidable, considering present-day Japanese law." He added, though, that "execution would be too much. I have no intention of being sentenced to die."

Even with more than three years to think over that bloody dawn in Sagamihara, Uematsu did not waver from his insistence that the life of anyone who could not communicate was useless. He said that he had "thought deeply" about the subject.

At a November interview session, when he was told that his views had no broad support, Uematsu grew angry and shot back, "It's just that no one will admit it."

Another of Uematsu's strongly held beliefs is that it is natural for unproductive people to die, but he himself had been unable to work for a time after quitting a job. Asked what he thought about his own unproductivity at the time, he replied that he "wanted to become a person with value." Told he did not look like a happy person, Uematsu replied, "I'm being allowed to spend my time in a meaningful manner."

Since his indictment, Uematsu has in his interviews consistently sought to justify the killings, including with his invented "failed mind" epithet.

"Potentially, he (Uematsu) is being pressed to create an after-the-fact theoretical basis for deeds he in fact came to commit for gut-level reasons," observed Toyo University criminal psychology professor Masayuki Kiriu. Uematsu's aberrant ideologies, too, "are armor meant to protect himself, and he might think of them as his lifeline."

As the interviews progressed, the Mainichi's reporters saw Uematsu's belief that the disabled should be expunged from society expand to encompass anyone who could not work. On this idea, professor Kiriu commented, "His standard for making this judgement is whether it fits himself or not. There's no core to his thinking." Kiriu added that Uematsu's apparent fear of a heavy sentence suggests "he may be starting to open his eyes to the fact he is just one weak human being.

"It's natural for him to feel that he doesn't want to die."

(Japanese original by Ai Kunimoto, Shotaro Kinoshita, and Tsumuki Nakamura, Yokohama Bureau)

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