A doctor who failed to notice or remove part of a cotton candy stick that was lodged in the brain of a nursery school boy in July 1999, who did not bother to hospitalize the victim and who, the court acknowledged, tried to cover up his ineptitude, was cleared Tuesday of negligence resulting in death.
The Tokyo District Court found Hideki Nemoto, 37, a former doctor at Kyorin University Hospital in Mitaka in the western suburbs of Tokyo, not guilty. Prosecutors had demanded Nemoto be sentenced to one year in prison.
Presiding Judge Masaaki Kawaguchi recognized Nemoto’s negligence in failing to conduct a full examination and make a sufficient diagnosis of the boy’s condition.
But the judge reckoned the “chances that the boy’s life could have been saved were very slim even if the defendant had noticed that part of the stick remained in the boy’s brain.”
Shunzo Sugino, 4, fell while holding a cotton candy stick in his mouth at a Bon summer festival in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, on July 10, 1999. The stick punctured the boy’s throat and penetrated deep into his brain.
Sugino was treated at Kyorin University Hospital and returned home the same day. But the boy died at home the following day from his injuries. Nemoto was the doctor on duty for ear, nose and throat problems at the hospital the day the victim came in.
A postmortem found a 7.6-cm piece of the stick was still in Shunzo’s brain.
The three-judge court panel said Nemoto had altered Shunzo’s medical records to cover up his failure to notice Shunzo’s brain injury.
Sugino’s parents are now suing Nemoto and the hospital for 89.6 million yen.
During the trial, Nemoto had denied negligence and pleaded not guilty, arguing the accident was unprecedented and thus he could not have known the stick had pierced the boy’s brain.
In an unusual move, the presiding judge admonished Nemoto, saying he should humbly accept the charge that he had failed to follow basic medical procedures.
Tetsuo Ito, deputy chief of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, expressed disappointment at the acquittal and said the state will consider filing an appeal.