NIIGATA – A 37-year-old unemployed man admitted Tuesday that he abducted a 9-year-old girl in 1990 and held her captive for nine years and two months at his home in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, but declined to enter a plea.
Nobuyuki Sato faces charges of abduction of the now 19-year-old girl as well as confinement resulting in injury, both in violation of the Penal Code.
At Tuesday’s first hearing of his trial at the Niigata District Court, however, Sato disputed one point in the indictment, saying he did not carry the girl into a car at the time of the abduction but rather led her by hand to it.
The defendant’s lawyers demanded the court acquit Sato on the charge of abduction of a minor as the five-year statute of limitations has run out and pleaded extenuating circumstances, claiming the condition of confinement, which ended in January, was not uniform throughout its duration.
The defense team also did not enter a plea, saying they have “doubts” as to their client’s mental fitness and whether he is fit to be held responsible for his actions. The lawyers asked the court to conduct tests of the defendant’s mental state at the time of the abduction.
According to prosecutors, Sato forced the girl into the trunk of a car at knife-point Nov. 13, 1990, in Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, while she was on her way home from school, and brought her to a second-floor room of his home.
At the time, the girl was a fourth-grader at an elementary school in Sanjo.
During the confinement, he repeatedly threatened the girl using a knife and a stun gun, beating her whenever she tried to escape, they said. He also drew a boundary inside the room using adhesive tape and ordered the girl to remain inside it.
Sato told investigators that he “wanted someone to talk to,” and also that he would not have perpetrated the crime if the girl had been an adult, according to police statements read out during the hearing.
A police statement taken from the girl after her release was also read aloud at Tuesday’s hearing, in which she said she had not wanted to be with Sato. “I felt the only way to stay alive was to stay in (Sato’s) room,” she said in the statement.
“I do not want to go back to that world. Please don’t let him out,” her deposition read.
In addition, prosecutors revealed during Tuesday’s proceedings that Sato continually beat his victim and gave her only one meal a day so as to weaken her and prevent her from fleeing.
They said the defendant struck the girl roughly 700 times during her captivity, and that the girl stifled her cries of pain by biting her hand or her blanket.
The girl left the room only once — when she was allowed to take a shower after falling off the bed and becoming covered with dust, prosecutors said.
The girl sustained physical injuries as a consequence of the confinement, including atrophied leg muscles and reduced bone weight.
Although prosecutors earlier concluded the girl suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder, they decided against including it in the indictment as an injury.
While the disorder is often recognized in civil cases, it has rarely been used as a basis for indictment.
Prosecutors indicted Sato on March 3 after determining he was mentally fit to stand trial based on the results of a mental examination and the fact that he appeared to have been leading a normal life while confining the girl.
The case led to police scandals as the Niigata Prefectural Police at first falsely announced that police officers discovered the girl in late January at a hospital where Sato was taken for violent behavior, although prefectural health officials actually found her at Sato’s house.
In addition, the head of the Niigata Prefectural Police at the time was later found to have continued playing mah-jongg at an inn — with a National Police Agency official who was purportedly inspecting the prefectural force — despite being informed of the girl’s discovery Jan 28.
The two — Niigata Prefectural Police chief Koji Kobayashi and Yoshiaki Nakada, head of the NPA’s Kanto regional bureau — later resigned.