The stepfather of 5-year-old Yua Funato admitted to assault and neglect leading to her death last year during the first hearing in the case at the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday.
Yudai Funato, 34, was indicted over the fatal abuse of his stepdaughter Yua, who was assaulted and deprived of food in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward from around late January last year, leading to her death in March that year due to sepsis after the onset of pneumonia.
Funato also faces charges of possessing marijuana and physically assaulting the girl, which will also be heard at the Tokyo District Court.
At the hearing, prosecutors alleged that in late January he began ordering Yua to perform difficult tasks, such as forcing her to get up at 4 a.m. every morning. She was hit and given little food when she failed to follow the orders, they said.
The abuse escalated in February, with Yua being showered with cold water and punched in the face multiple times, they said. The girl had 170 wounds all over her body at the time of her death, according to prosecutors.
Funato admitted to the charges, saying “that’s correct” in a weak voice. Looking down throughout the hearing, he shed tears when his defense team made their argument.
The court sentenced Yua’s mother Yuri, who is now divorced from Funato, to an eight-year prison term last month for parental neglect resulting in the child’s death, while acknowledging that the 27-year-old woman suffered psychological abuse at her then-husband’s hands.
On Monday, Yuri Funato filed an appeal with the court. At her trial, prosecutors had demanded an 11-year prison term, while her defense lawyers had argued for a five-year term.
The indictment against Yudai Funato also stated that he failed to take the girl to hospital in late February last year, when the child’s condition seriously deteriorated as a result of his physical abuse.
The defense team argued that the time Yudai Funato realized Yua was in mortal danger was around March 1, immediately before her death on March 2, while prosecutors argued that he should have known she was in a dangerous situation by late February.
The girl’s death attracted nationwide attention and prompted Japan to enact revised laws in June this year banning parents and guardians from physically punishing children. The legislation also strengthened the ability of child welfare centers to intervene in cases when abuse is suspected.
Yua had been living in Kagawa Prefecture, before moving to Tokyo in January 2018 with her mother and younger brother to join Funato.
The girl had been taken into protective custody by a child welfare center twice in Kagawa Prefecture. Another center in Tokyo tried to check on the girl in February last year but her mother refused to allow its officials to see her.
A welfare ministry panel that looked into the matter concluded in a report in October that the two centers failed to coordinate sufficiently.
Yua weighed about 12 kilograms when she died, far less than the 20-kg average for children of her age. She left notes in which she made desperate pleas for her parents to “forgive” her and stop mistreating her.
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