YOKOHAMA – A court sentenced a 25-year-old man to death on Thursday for killing three elderly residents at a nursing home where he was working in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, in 2014.
The Yokohama District Court found Hayato Imai guilty of murdering Tamio Ushizawa, 87, Chieko Nakagawa, 86, and Nobuko Asami, 96, by throwing them off balconies at the facility in the city in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Imai had pleaded not guilty, saying he had made false statements to escape police pressure during interrogations, but Presiding Judge Hidetaka Watanabe said that his initial confession was “highly credible” as well as that “there was no leading by police officers and the explanations were rational.”
The prosecutors sought the death penalty, saying that what he had told investigators matched the crime scene and that his confession was not imaginary but based on actual experience and memories.
The defense team called for Imai to be acquitted, saying it was possible the victims’ deaths may have been suicide.
Ushizawa died after falling from a balcony at the facility in November 2014, and Nakagawa and Asami died likewise on two separate occasions the following month.
Police initially overlooked that the deaths had occurred in a series at the same facility and suspicions only arose in September 2015, resulting in Imai’s arrest on Feb. 15, 2016. Imai had been the sole person working night shifts when the three died.
The police quoted Imai as saying during initial interrogations that he murdered the three as he felt taking care of them was “troublesome.” But he turned silent three days after he was arrested on suspicion of murder.
Imai was hired at the facility in the spring of 2014. The facility, which opened in November 2011, was reported through a third-party review in 2015 as not conducting sufficient training of care workers to prevent abuse.
Following the deaths of the residents, the health ministry issued an improvement order to the operator.
Care facilities in Japan have seen a number of serious crimes occur in recent years with care workers becoming assailants.
Last year, a 25-year-old worker at a nursing home in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward was arrested for allegedly killing an 83-year-old resident by dumping him into a bathtub when he could not stand on his own.
Experts have said staff shortages at facilities have increased stress on workers and residents, and led to the employment of inexperienced or unfit workers as well.