Tochigi court accepts murder confession as evidence despite coercion claims


The Utsunomiya District Court on Friday accepted as evidence interrogation records showing a man admitting to the murder of a 7-year-old girl in Tochigi Prefecture in 2005, despite the fact he made a not-guilty plea and said the confession was coerced.

The credibility of the recorded confession of Takuya Katsumata, 33, has been a major point of contention in the trial because there is no significant physical evidence and no murder weapon has been found.

Presided over by Judge Satomi Matsubara, the professional and lay judges accepted the prosecutors’ records made in June 2014 after Katsumata was arrested earlier that month on suspicion of killing Yuki Yoshida.

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

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, but then began denying involvement later that day.

In June 2014, he again admitted to the murder. A video shot on June 11 was played during a session of the trial this month, showing Katsumata crying and repeatedly answering “yes” when asked by a prosecutor if he killed the girl.

The video shows Katsumata explaining in detail how he killed her and abandoned the body, saying “I stabbed her with the butterfly knife that was in the dashboard of the car.”

He signed a paper admitting to the charge on June 20 of that year.

The prosecutors said the defendant spoke freely in the video and said there were no illegal interrogations.

But Katsumata’s defense counsel said he was coerced into making a false confession after being detained for a long time, subjected to violent treatment and repeatedly forced to apologize in an interrogation where no audio or video recording was made.

“I was told that dinner would not be served unless I said ‘I’m sorry that I killed her’ 50 times,” Katsumata said during the trial. “I was slapped when I denied killing her.”

A police officer who appeared as a witness denied Katsumata’s claim.