KYOTO – A 46-year-old chief internist at a public hospital here was acquitted Friday of charges of poisoning seven colleagues in October 1998.
Citing a lack of proof, the Kyoto District Court acquitted Hiroshi Ishida, who had been charged with mixing a toxic chemical into water in an electric urn in an Utano Hospital staff room.
Presiding Judge Hiroshi Fukukawa also determined that police acted illegally by forcing a confession out of Ishida during his interrogation.
Seven doctors were briefly taken ill after drinking green tea made with the water laced with sodium azide.
Prosecutors had demanded an 18-month prison term for Ishida, but Furukawa said that although the possibility existed Ishida had put the sodium azide into the water, another possibility — that someone else did it — could not be ruled out, making a conviction impossible.
“The accused had a motive to commit the crime and it was highly possible that he introduced the poison,” the judge said. “However, we cannot conclude, without any room for reasonable doubt, that he was the perpetrator.”
Ishida reportedly once admitted being the perpetrator when grilled by police, but he later denied the charges. Furukawa dismissed out of hand police reports based on the alleged confession.
The judge determined in November that the confession had been forced by the police, who, he said, had threatened to hire a mob to attack Ishida’s family if he refused to confess.
The police tactics “seriously deviated from what is tolerable and were illegal,” Furukawa said. “Therefore, the confession cannot be accepted as evidence and the court will follow the principle that the benefit of doubt goes to the accused.”
Prosecutors charged that Ishida put 0.8 grams of sodium azide into hot water in the electric water pot at around 8:40 a.m., Oct. 28, 1998. The seven doctors who drank green tea made with the water became ill.
The prosecutors alleged that Ishida held a grudge against the hospital chief, who was trying to dismantle his section.
The judge acknowledged that Ishida held a grudge against the chief but added that other doctors had similar motivation to commit such a crime, pointing out that there were feuds among numerous doctors at the hospital.
The prosecutors also argued that only Ishida had the opportunity to put the chemical in the pot, but the defense successfully countered that it would have been difficult for Ishida to have introduced the poison without being seen because people were frequently walking in and out of the staff room.
Toyoaki Murai, head of Ishida’s defense team, said prosecutors should not file an appeal, pointing out that every item of evidence they provided — including Ishida’s initial confession — was dismissed by the court.
Ishida released a statement saying he was “relieved” with the court’s decision and that he hopes to return to his former job at the hospital.
Following a July 1998 curry poisoning case at a summer festival in Wakayama Prefecture, copycat incidents involving other toxic substances occurred in Niigata and Aichi prefectures.
In January 1999, the health ministry designated sodium azide, used to generate gas in automobile air bags, as a deadly poison. The chemical had not been on the ministry’s list earlier, despite its high toxicity, because it had rarely been used.
The compound is also listed as a dangerous substance under the Fire Services Law.
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