OTSU, SHIGA PREF. – A former assistant nurse convicted of murdering a patient in 2003 was set to be exonerated Monday after prosecutors chose not to contest new evidence presented by her defense team during the first hearing of her retrial.
Mika Nishiyama, 40, was found guilty in 2005 of killing a 72-year-old man by removing his respirator at a hospital in Shiga Prefecture, western Japan.
But at the retrial hearing at the Otsu District Court, prosecutors did not contest new defense-submitted evidence including a doctor’s opinion that the patient died of natural causes.
“We will put the matter in the hands of the court based on the evidence submitted during the previous trial, in which her conviction was finalized, as well as the retrial,” a prosecutor said. Prosecutors did not say whether they would support Nishiyama’s acquittal.
“The defendant did not remove the patient’s respirator and his death was natural,” a defense lawyer said, urging the court to exonerate her. “It is clear that her confession was a lie because its key points drastically changed.”
The retrial will conclude next Monday, with the ruling expected to be delivered on March 31.
The former nursing assistant was indicted after admitting to killing the patient during police questioning in 2004, but later retracted her confession, claiming it was coerced by interrogators.
She pleaded not guilty in subsequent court proceedings, but the court ruled the confession credible and handed down a 12-year jail term in 2005, which she finished serving in August 2017.
After Nishiyama sought a retrial, the Osaka High Court in December 2017 ruled that it was possible the patient died from natural causes based on new evidence submitted by the defense team, which included the doctor’s opinion that pointed to arrhythmia as possible cause of death.
A retrial was ordered after the high court refuted the credibility of Nishiyama’s confession. The prosecutors appealed the decision, but their appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court in March last year.
In talks held with the court and defense lawyers in preparation for the retrial, the prosecutors initially said they planned to continue pursuing a guilty verdict.
But in October last year, the prosecutors reversed their stance, saying that they would not seek new evidence to prove the case against the former assistant nurse.