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MATSUE, Shimane Pref. (Kyodo) A 79-year-old patient at a hospital in Gotsu, Shimane Prefecture, was apparently strangled to death the previous day, police said Sunday.

A nurse at the hospital found Michiaki Kono, a Shinto priest, lying in his bed lifeless at around 11:25 p.m. Saturday, they said. He was confirmed dead soon after.

The police are investigating the incident as a potential homicide because his neck showed evidence of strangulation. They believe that string or something similar may have been used.

There were no other visible signs of injury, disheveled clothes or ransacking in the one-patient room.

Kono was admitted to Saiseikai Gotsu General Hospital on Feb. 15 for lower-back trouble and was almost unable to walk, hospital officials said.

He was last seen alive at around 8:30 p.m., when he was speaking with a nurse in his room at the time, the officials said.

Both the room and the hospital area were unlocked.