National / Crime & Legal

18-year sentence sought for stepfather over fatal abuse of Yua Funato

Kyodo

Prosecutors sought an 18-year jail term on Monday for the stepfather of 5-year-old Yua Funato over assault and neglect that led to her death last year in a high-profile child abuse case.

Yudai Funato, 34, is accused of causing the death of Yua from sepsis in March 2018. He allegedly limited the child’s food intake from around late January last year, beat her and did not seek medical care despite her weakened state.

“The defendant led the severe abuse. He made the girl suffer from starvation by limiting food. He bullied the victim to such an extent that she had nowhere to escape,” prosecutors said. “The crime’s maliciousness is severe beyond comparison.”

“We have to think about the agony and regret of a child who was deprived of her future by her parents,” they said.

Wearing a dark suit, the defendant looked nervous, clenching his fists in his lap as prosecutors made their argument. “I’m really sorry,” a crying Funato said in his final statement.

He closed his eyes and his face was expressionless as he heard the prosecutors’ recommended sentence.

Prosecutors have alleged Funato ordered Yua to wake up at 4 a.m., among other demands, and shouted at her and grew violent when she did not.

They also say he failed to take her to the doctor, despite Yua throwing up repeatedly from the end of February last year, as he feared the abuse would be discovered.

Yua left behind written messages such as “Please forgive me” on a sheet of paper, which prosecutors regard as pleas for her mistreatment to stop.

The girl weighed about 12 kilograms when she died, far less than the 20-kg average for her age, and had 170 injuries, according to the prosecutors.

Funato’s defense team has challenged the prosecutors’ timeline, arguing the accused realized the child’s life was in danger only a day before her death on March 2, 2018.

The defense lawyers added Funato did not completely neglect Yua, as he sometimes fed her bananas and “tried to become her father.”

The stepfather has admitted most of the charges. The court will hand down its ruling Oct. 15.

“My disciplining was unsuccessful, and I started assaulting her as my anger grew. I am responsible for everything,” he said Friday during questioning by his defense counsel in the lay judge trial.

He also defended himself at times that day by saying, when quizzed by prosecutors about details of the sequence of events, that his memory was too vague.

Yua’s 27-year-old mother, Yuri, now divorced from Funato, received an eight-year sentence in September for parental neglect resulting in her death.

The ruling against her recognized she suffered psychological abuse from Yudai Funato, but added that she “was aware of the violence (against Yua) and allowed it.” She has appealed the court decision.

At Yudai Funato’s trial on Thursday, which Yuri Funato attended as a prosecutors’ witness, she said, “There are people who can help me now. I don’t want him to approach my child.” The couple have a boy, born in 2016.

Yua had twice been taken into protective custody by a child welfare center in Kagawa Prefecture. Another center in Tokyo tried to check on her in February last year, but her mother refused access.

The high-profile abuse case prompted Japan to revise the law, banning parents and guardians from physically punishing children and strengthening the ability of child welfare centers to intervene in cases where abuse is suspected.

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