National / Crime & Legal

Killer of 19 at Sagamihara disabled care home sentenced to death

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI, AP, Reuters

A man was sentenced to death Monday over a stabbing rampage in 2016 at a care home near Tokyo for people with mental disabilities that left 19 residents dead and 26 others injured.

Satoshi Uematsu, a 30-year-old former employee of the care facility in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, had admitted to the killings in hearings during his lay judge trial at the Yokohama District Court. He insisted that people with disabilities who are unable to communicate well do not have human rights.

Sentencing Uematsu to death by hanging, presiding Judge Kiyoshi Aonuma cited the violence of the crime. “This crime was pre-meditated and there was strong evidence of the desire to kill,” Aonuma told a courtroom filled with family members of the victims. “The maliciousness of this was extreme,” he added.

Uematsu, dressed in a black suit and with long hair tied back in a ponytail, sat looking calmly at the judge during the court session.

Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Uematsu, while the defense team had argued he was mentally incompetent and should not be held criminally responsible for his actions.

Uematsu told the court last month he would not appeal the ruling, no matter the outcome. The defense said the defendant’s personality had drastically changed since 2015 due to his use of marijuana, which it claimed triggered his mental disorder and the attack.

In demanding capital punishment, prosecutors cited the large number of victims and Uematsu’s discriminatory remarks against people with disabilities. The rampage was “inhumane” and left “no room for leniency,” they argued last month.

There had been issues with Uematsu’s behavior in court including him apparently trying to put something in his mouth, disrupting proceedings, in the first hearing in January. The judge called a recess and then resumed without him.

Murder was one of six charges he faced.

Uematsu also defended himself, arguing his actions do not deserve the death penalty. He reportedly said he wanted to eradicate all disabled people in the horrifying attack, which also left 26 people wounded. He turned himself in to police after the assault, carrying bloodied knives.

It later emerged he had left his job at the home just months earlier, and had been forcibly hospitalized after telling colleagues he intended to kill disabled people at the facility.

Uematsu had been discharged after 12 days when a doctor decided he was not a threat. He had also written a letter outlining plans to attack the home, claiming “disabled people only create unhappiness.”

Among the few victims to be identified publicly was a 19-year-old woman, Miho, whose mother had said at the court that Uematsu “didn’t need a future.”

“I hate you so much. I want to rip you apart. Even the most extreme penalty is light for you. I will never forgive you,” her mother said, according to public broadcaster NHK. “Please bring back my most precious daughter. … You’re still alive. It’s not fair. It’s wrong.”

“I demand capital punishment,” she said.

Uematsu has shown no remorse for the attack, telling the Mainichi Shimbun daily that people with mental disabilities “have no heart,” and that for them “there’s no point in living.”

“I had to do it for the sake of society,” he said.

Uematsu also told medical staff and officials that he was influenced by the ideas of Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler, whose killings of disabled people were seen as actions intended to improve what was described as a master race.

Uematsu’s beliefs shocked Japan, with experts and activists raising questions about whether others might hold similar views.

Japan has been making efforts to increase accessibility — particularly in Tokyo ahead of this year’s Paralympic Games — and activists hailed last year’s election of two disabled lawmakers.

But some critics feel the country still falls short of fully including people with disabilities.

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