This is second story in a three-part series.
Why did Mika Nishiyama, a former assistant nurse who served 12 years in prison for murdering a male patient in 2003, falsely confess to killing him? That was the greatest mystery about the case, which is due to finally result in an acquittal for Nishiyama later this month.
Without being coerced or threatened, Nishiyama said, “I pulled out the respirator tube from a patient and killed him,” according to investigator records from interrogations prior to her arrest.
A November 2005 ruling by the Otsu District Court rejected her later denials to the murder charge for three reasons: She confessed voluntarily; she was not detained at the time; and her confession was recognized as being very spontaneous.
But that was far from the end of her claims of innocence and while she was serving her 12-year term in prison, Nishiyama continued to claim innocence to her parents through a series of letters.
A colleague’s distress
Police initially investigated the death of the 72-year-old comatose patient case as one of professional negligence, suspecting that a nurse in charge at the Shiga Prefecture hospital dozed off and failed to hear an alarm from his respirator that would indicate that a tube had been disconnected.
But even after a yearlong investigation, the police failed to obtain witness testimony that the alarm had gone off. The investigation was at a standstill.
But then they got a breakthrough through Nishiyama.
At first, Nishiyama said the alarm didn’t go off. But then she backtracked and lied, possibly because of her burgeoning romantic feelings for the officer investigating the case.
“I told them I couldn’t say it went off because it didn’t, but (the officer) banged on the table and acted like he would kick a chair,” she wrote in a letter to her lawyer.
“He placed photographs (of the patient) side by side on the table and pushed my head so that my face was just above them. I was so scared,” she wrote in her petition to the Osaka High Court asking for a retrial.
In the same petition, she detailed how the interrogator started to behave kindly after she told them that she had heard the sound of the alarm — a piece of information the investigators were desperate to get.
“Ever since I was a child, I was compared to my brothers who did well in school. Others used to say to me that I was hopeless compared to my brothers, but the police officer told me that I was a smart kid, that I was not a weirdo, that I was just like anyone else. I thought he was a person I could trust,” she wrote.
Because she wanted to earn the officer’s affection, Nishiyama continued to say for nearly a month that she heard the alarm go off. She then learned that the nurse in charge of patients on the night of the incident had been enduring increasingly harsher interrogations over her apparent failure to notice the alarm.
Thinking that she was the one who put her in such a situation, Nishiyama repeatedly visited the police station with a letter saying her confessions were false and should be withdrawn.
A week before she confessed to killing the patient, she even visited the police station at 2:10 a.m. to submit the letter. But the police flatly refused to accept her request and proceeded with the investigation as if it was a case of professional negligence caused by a snoozing nurse.
Words of despair
Having been driven into a corner, Nishiyama felt the only way she could save her colleague was to shift blame for the patient’s death to herself.
“When I carelessly covered him with a blanket, it seemed like the tube came off,” she wrote in a confession note two days before admitting to killing the patient.
On the day she confessed to killing him, the confession note she wrote changed to, “I pulled out the tube of the respirator.”
Her statement to the investigator she had feelings for on July 2, 2004, went even further, according to the records written by the investigator.
“I killed him by pulling out the respirator tube. What I did was murder.”
She “confessed” that the alarm went off because she was frightened of the officer’s behavior, and she “confessed” to killing the patient because she was distraught for having put her colleague in a precarious situation.
“I first lied that the alarm went off, and then I had to lie about everything else and I got all confused,” she wrote in a letter to her parents in August 2005.
On the morning of the day she confessed, Nishiyama visited a psychiatrist and was diagnosed as having anxiety neurosis.
The medical record written by the psychiatrist included the following remarks she made to the doctor: “I actually heard the alarm ringing. Since the nurse said it didn’t go off, I changed my statement to match hers.”
But written at the end of the record was a question, “I couldn’t keep on lying. Am I weak?”
An expert who saw the medical record said, “She was in a state of depression. She could have done anything out of desperation at any time.”