National / Crime & Legal

Man gets life for Tochigi girl's murder despite lack of physical evidence


A man on Friday was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a 7-year-old girl in Tochigi Prefecture in 2005 in a case that centered solely on dubious confessions rather than physical evidence.

The ruling handed to 33-year-old Takuya Katsumata by a panel of professional and lay judges at the Utsunomiya District Court was in line with the prosecutors’ demands.

But given the failure of the Tochigi police to recover the murder weapon, the credibility of Katsumata’s confessions — allegedly made under duress — became a major point of contention when his trial began in late February.

According to the indictment, Katsumata stabbed Yuki Yoshida to death on Dec. 2, 2005, a day after abducting her on her way home from school in what was then Imaichi, Tochigi Prefecture.

He was arrested on suspicion of murder in June 2014 but pleaded not guilty in May 2015.

The defense alleged that Katsumata was maltreated during detention and that while he gave conflicting statements during the interrogation process, he eventually settled on a plea of not guilty.

The prosecutors said that a video-taped confession showing Katsumata describing the murder with gestures was concrete and realistic.

But the defense counsel questioned its credibility, noting that the time he said he killed the girl did not match the time of her death as deduced from the contents of her stomach. The defense also said police coerced him into changing small details in his earlier statements during the initial investigation phase.

Moreover, Katsumata’s defense team also claimed he was subject to violence during detention and was told his punishment would be reduced if he admitted guilt.

The victim’s family demanded a life sentence.

“Our suffering from losing an irreplaceable life cannot be healed. We cannot even allow the defendant to run away from his sin through the death penalty,” they said in a statement read out at the trial.