The Supreme Court has given its approval for the retrial of a former assistant nurse who was convicted of the murder of a 72-year-old male patient at a hospital in Shiga Prefecture and has already served a prison term.

In making the decision on Monday, the top court’s Second Petty Bench rejected an appeal by public prosecutors and upheld the Osaka High Court’s ruling to reopen the case against Mika Nishiyama, 39. In the December 2017 verdict, the high court referred to the possibility that the patient may have died of natural causes.

The Supreme Court’s decision was made unanimously by three justices. In the retrial, Otsu District Court in the prefecture’s capital is highly likely to acquit Nishiyama, who served her prison term until August 2017, sources familiar with the situation said.

The male patient at Koto Memorial Hospital, in what is now the city of Higashiomi, was found dead by a nurse in May 2003.

Nishiyama was in charge of taking care of the patient in her role as an assistant nurse. After quitting her job at the hospital, Nishiyama told law enforcement authorities during their investigations that she had removed an artificial respirator from the patient. She was arrested in July 2004.

Although Nishiyama withdrew her confession during her trial, the Otsu District Court recognized, based on a medical examiner’s certificate and other materials, that the patient suffered acute cardiac arrest because of a lack of oxygen.

In November 2005, the district court sentenced her to 12 years in prison for the murder of the patient, concluding that her confession was credible.

The ruling was finalized by the Supreme Court in May 2007.

In granting the retrial for Nishiyama, the Osaka High Court said that the male patient may have died naturally from lethal arrhythmia, citing a doctor’s certificate newly submitted by the defense.

The high court also said that Nishiyama’s confession wasn’t credible. The court said her confession may have been guided by police, noting that her statements regarding the conditions of the artificial respirator had often changed.

The high court thus overrode the Otsu District Court’s September 2015 rejection of her retrial plea, which was filed in September 2012. That was the second such plea by Nishiyama. She filed her first retrial petition in September 2010, but that was later dismissed.

In a separate case, the Supreme Court in October 2018 approved a retrial for Koki Miyata, 85, who served a prison term over the 1985 murder of a 59-year-old man in Kumamoto Prefecture. In the murder trial, the Kumamoto District Court in 1986 sentenced Miyata to 13 years in prison, and the verdict was finalized by the top court in 1990.

In his retrial, set to be held at the district court on March 28, Miyata is expected to be found not guilty.

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