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Suspect in 2005 murder of Tochigi girl pleads innocent after initially confessing

Kyodo

Takuya Katsumata pleaded not guilty Monday as his trial opened over the slaying of a 7-year-old girl in Tochigi Prefecture in 2005, after initially confessing to the murder.

In the lay judge trial at the Utsunomiya District Court, the 33-year-old Katsumata said he did not kill Yuki Yoshida, while prosecutors said his confession was credible and that there were many pieces of evidence linking him to the victim.

Yoshida went missing Dec. 1, 2005, on her way home from school in what was then the city of Imaichi. Her body was found the next day in a forest in neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture. Imaichi was merged into city of Nikko in 2006.

The prosecutors alleged that Katsumata stabbed the girl in the chest multiple times at around 4 a.m. Dec. 2, 2005, and left her to bleed to death.

Katsumata’s lawyers said he was coerced into confessing to a crime he did not commit, and that his confessions lacked credibility as there were almost no traces of blood left where the victim was found and her estimated time of death does not support the accusation.

When his lawyers told the court that he was “coerced into confession,” Katsumata’s breath become rough and loud, and was audible even from the corner of the courtroom.

A murder weapon has never been found.

Katsumata’s claims have changed dramatically over the course of the investigation. He confessed to Yoshida’s murder on the morning of Feb. 18, 2014, while being detained over a separate case, then began denying his involvement later that day. However, he later admitted to kidnapping the girl.

In June 2014, he again admitted to the murder when he was served an arrest warrant over the case.

“There is no doubt that I killed (her),” Katsumata was quoted by the police as saying at the time. “What I can say now is that I am sorry.”

His admission remained unchanged throughout the period leading to the indictment, but in May 2015 he denied involvement again.

Fifteen court sessions are scheduled to take place until the conclusion of the trial on March 22, with a ruling scheduled to be handed down March 31.

While it remains to be seen whether this case involves a forced confession by investigators or prosecutors, the criminal investigation and criminal justice systems have witnessed numerous false convictions over the past several decades.

For Monday’s court session, 913 people lined up outside the court for 42 seats.