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A year on, Sagamihara massacre trial start still faces hurdles

Kyodo

About a year has passed since the fatal stabbings of 19 residents with developmental disabilities at a facility in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, killed at the hands of a former care worker who spoke of euthanizing the disabled.

Satoshi Uematsu, 27, was indicted in February on six charges including murder and attempted murder, but his trial is unlikely to start soon due to the volume of trial preparation work, according to judicial officials.

Even the date for the pretrial conference, a procedure to sort out issues relating to the case before trial, has yet to be set.

“There is an enormous amount of evidence (to be examined). I reckon more than a year would be needed merely for pretrial discovery, or disclosure of evidence, by prosecutors during the consultation stage,” a judicial official said.

Uematsu is accused of killing 19 residents at the facility and injuring 24 others and two staff members on July 26, 2016, after breaking into the Tsukui Yamayuri En facility where he had formerly worked.

He tied up staff members and asked them where people with severe impairments were accommodated in the facility, investigative sources said.

Shortly after his arrest, Uematsu allegedly told police that he wanted to “save” those with multiple disabilities and felt “no remorse” for what he did.

He reportedly told others before the rampage that “disabled people create misfortune” and that he “wanted to euthanize them.”

He has continued to make similar remarks in detention since his arrest, according to sources familiar with the case.

Investigative sources said he admits to killing and injuring the intellectually disabled patients at the facility and hurting staff.

The case is expected to be examined under the lay judge trial system, which was launched in 2009 to better reflect citizens’ views in trials of serious criminal cases.

The key issue in the trial is expected to be the defendant’s mental competence.

Prosecutors indicted him after five months of psychiatric evaluation, which found he was suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder and that delusions arising from the condition may have hampered his capacity for self-control.

His defense counsel is expected to ask the Yokohama District Court to have another doctor carry out a second psychiatric evaluation.

If the request is accepted, pretrial procedures would be halted for several months until the results of the examination are released.

Uematsu began working at the care home in December 2012 but quit in February 2016 after outbursts in which he spoke of euthanizing the disabled.

Upon quitting he was committed to a mental hospital and deemed at risk of harming others. He was discharged the following month.

Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa decided two months after the rampage to build a new facility on the site after the existing facility’s demolition. About 130 residents have vacated the facility and are currently being accommodated elsewhere.

A detailed rebuilding plan has not yet been worked out due to differing opinions among advocacy groups and the families of former Tsukui Yamayuri En residents, chiefly about the size of the new facility.

The mass killings came as a shock, particularly for people with special needs.

A group of people with intellectually disabilities in Kanagawa Prefecture has launched a forum to discuss the incident.

They held a gathering in early July of about 50 people in Yokohama.

Mayumi Narazaki, 39, presided over the forum, asking participants what they think of Uematsu.

Some said they could not forget and wanted him to “prostrate himself” to seek forgiveness while others hoped he would “learn to cherish life.”

Masayuki Okahara, professor of sociology at Keio University, said, “I cannot accept the defendant’s claims. But against the background of the case may be society’s intolerance toward its most vulnerable members.

“There is a general sense that we should not discuss the incident. Society has accepted disabled people only in the context of heartwarming stories,” he said.

“But we should first understand the reality of seriously impaired people. We should create an environment in which such people and their families can feel acceptance and freely go out in society.”