Alleged triple-strangler tells court he is innocent

Kyodo

A 39-year-old man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to strangling three women in the town of Kitagata, Saga Prefecture, between 1987 and 1989 and burying their bodies in nearby woods.

“I am innocent of the three murders,” Teruhiko Matsue told the Saga District Court. Matsue is accused of killing the women, whose bodies were found together in a forest in the town in January 1989.

The trial is expected to be drawn out as Matsue has refused to confess to the charges against him, sources said.

Matsue’s arrest this summer came as the statute of limitations on the earliest case was about to expire.

According to the indictment, Matsue strangled Sumiko Fujise, a 48-year-old restaurant employee, in July 1987; Kiyomi Nakashima, a 50-year-old housewife, in December 1988; and Tatsuyo Yoshino, a 37-year-old seamstress, in January 1989.

Public prosecutors told the court Tuesday that Matsue raped Fujise in his car then killed her when she threatened to go to the police. The woman was an acquaintance of his, they added.

The prosecutors said Matsue killed Nakashima because he believed she had wrongly blamed him for bumping her with his car. Matsue, who was drunk at the time, was worried that she would go to police, they said.

They further alleged that he killed Yoshino, whom he was dating, because he believed she was seeing another man.

Matsue admitted murdering the three women in October 1989, when he was arrested on a drug-related charge. He immediately retracted his confession, however, saying police had forced him to make it.

With no material evidence to link Matsue to the murders, investigators abandoned their case against him.

But 15 years later, they resurrected the case, conducting another round of investigations and saying Matsue’s DNA matches saliva found on one of the victims’ bodies. A new test using more sophisticated methods linked Matsue to the corpse.

On June 11, police arrested Matsue and charged him with the murder of Yoshino. Matsue was in prison at the time, having been sentenced to a two-year prison term in March for breaking into houses.

On July 2, the police served Matsue with a fresh warrant, charging him with the murder of Fujise. The indictment on the Fujise case came only six hours before the 15-year statute of limitations on the crime was set to expire.

On July 9, the police served Matsue with an arrest warrant for the murder of Nakashima.