The Tokyo High Court overturned a lower court’s death sentence and gave a Peruvian man life in prison Thursday over the 2015 murder of six people in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture.
The court ruled that Vayron Jonathan Nakada Ludena, 34, who was found guilty of robbery and the murders, could not be held completely responsible for his actions due to his schizophrenia at the time of the crime.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, which the Saitama District Court granted in March 2018, concluding that he had been mentally competent enough to recognize the gravity of his actions. His defense counsel argued for his acquittal.
The district court had said Nakada Ludena’s efforts to hide the bodies and wipe away the blood at the crime scenes demonstrated that he knew that his actions were criminal. But the high court judged that he had a diminished mental capacity at that time.
The high court’s presiding Judge Kazuyuki Okuma said, “There were errors on a psychiatric evaluation that cannot be overlooked.”
Noting that although the crime committed by Nakada Ludena was cruel and warranted capital punishment, the judge said, “We reduced (the sentence) in line with the law due to his diminished capacity.”
According to the rulings, Nakada Ludena broke into three homes from Sept. 14 to 16 in 2015 in an attempt to steal money and valuable items.
He stabbed to death a couple in their 50s, an 84-year-old woman, and a 41-year-old woman and her 10- and 7-year-old daughters in their respective homes. He also stole a car and ¥9,000 in cash.
Nakada Ludena was arrested the following month in connection with the murder of the couple, having been hospitalized after plunging from a second-floor window at the third home on Sept. 16. Police subsequently served him with further arrest warrants related to the other victims.
The bereaved families were surprised and shocked by the high court ruling.
A man whose wife and two children were murdered in the third home expressed his frustration at a news conference in Tokyo. “I want to yell at the judge, ‘If you were in my position, how could you accept this?'” he said. The man, who has attended every court session, lamented that he would have to “start from scratch again.” He said he hopes the Supreme Court will review the ruling.
Masato Takahashi, the man’s lawyer, also said he was “stunned” by the ruling and criticized it, saying, “For the first time, I saw such a ruling without any basis in evidence.”
The lawyer added that he strongly asked prosecutors to appeal to the top court.