SENDAI – A male nurse was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for killing an elderly patient and attempting to murder four others at a Sendai clinic in 2000 by administering muscle relaxant.
Wrapping up 32 months of proceedings on the closely watched case, the Sendai District Court ruled that Daisuke Mori, 32, had intent to kill and was the only one capable of administrating the intravenous doses at the times of the crimes.
Mori immediately filed an appeal. He had pleaded not guilty, insisting the charges against him had been fabricated by police.
Mori was convicted of killing Yukiko Shimoyama, 89, and trying to murder four other patients, including a 1-year-old girl, in separate incidents at the now-defunct Hokuryo Clinic in 2000. Another of the four, a girl aged 11 at the time, remains unconscious.
Prosecutors’ case against Mori was based on circumstantial evidence.
Mori’s lawyers had argued that what happened to the patients at the clinic was caused by other factors, including a natural change in their condition and side effects from their medications.
Presiding Judge Hideaki Hatanaka found Mori guilty on all counts, calling his argument unreasonable.
“The patients’ condition suddenly changed because muscle relaxants were injected into their bodies,” Hatanaka said.
The judge denounced Mori’s acts as “unprecedented crimes committed under the disguise of medical treatment” that might have gone undetected if he had not committed them in a series.
The judge said Mori’s innocent plea “aggravated the plight of the victims and their families” and that the situation “even warranted consideration of capital punishment.”
As he was being sentenced, Mori glared at the judge and shook his head as if to say he could not believe the ruling.
Prosecutors had demanded a life term. They claimed that what happened to the five patients was the result of deliberate acts by Mori. The patients’ symptoms matched the effects of muscle relaxant components detected in their bodies, they said.
Hatanaka said this evidence was “admissible and credible.”
Prosecutors have said they found components of muscle relaxant in the blood serum, urine and IV bags of the five patients. The judge criticized the prosecutors for using up all the samples during their chemical analysis, but endorsed them as valid evidence anyway.
The judge cited Mori’s dissatisfaction with the behavior of the then deputy chief of the clinic as his motive for one of the crimes. The judge said Mori’s motive for the other crimes remains unclear.
The prosecutors also cited other evidence, including orders placed by Mori for more muscle relaxant than he needed for operations, and said he tried to hide empty ampuls to destroy evidence.
Mori was arrested in January 2001 for one of the four murder attempts. He owned up to the allegations during police interrogation, but four days after his arrest he declared his innocence.
Mori’s defense team had accused investigators of trying to coerce him into making a false confession, and the judge agreed that Mori’s initial confession “may have been partly guided by the interrogating officers.”
But the judge concluded that Mori’s admission to administering muscle relaxant to one of the victims is “highly credible.”
A lawyer for Mori quoted him as saying after being sentenced that he was so disappointed he “could not even cry.”
“Does this sound right to you?” Mori reportedly asked the lawyer. “Witnesses are trusted. I wonder why people don’t believe what I say?”
His lawyers said the court’s decision was “intolerable.” The court apparently had already made its judgment at the beginning of the trial, the team said.
About 100 supporters of Mori rallied at a park near the court. Reflecting the strong public interest in the case, roughly 1,500 people lined up in the morning to partake in a lottery to get tickets for 52 courtroom gallery seats.
Hokuryo Clinic was closed three months after Mori’s arrest due to a sharp decline in patient numbers.