Photo/IllutrationThe Nagoya District Court’s Okazaki branch in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture (Haruka Ono)

OKAZAKI, Aichi Prefecture--An overwhelmed mother who was raising triplets mostly on her own was found guilty of causing one of their deaths after slamming the baby to the floor and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The Okazaki branch of the Nagoya District Court acknowledged in a March 15 ruling that Eri Matsushita, 30, was responsible for the death of her 11-month-old triplet, who died of brain damage. Prosecutors sought a six-year prison term.

The court said the baby suffered the injuries when she tossed him to the tatami-mat floor around 7 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2018, after she became enraged by his crying.

Although the accused was believed to be in a depressed state at the time and overwhelmed by her child-rearing responsibilities, the court determined that she was fully responsible for her actions.

In delivering the sentence, the court, which examined the case under the lay judge system, stated, “It was highly dangerous and heinous to hurl the victim, who was defenseless and could not put up any resistance, to the floor twice.”

Weeps were heard in the gallery among members of a group of parents who raised twins or more children in attendance to show their support for Matsushita when the verdict was announced.

When the boy began crying on the night of that day in a children's room, Matsushita, a former temporary worker, felt her heart beating fast and became nauseated.

Picking the boy up from his bed, she took him to the next room with a tatami-mat floor and slammed him to the floor.

She said she felt “calmed down a little” after again dropping the wailing boy to the floor.

About two weeks later, the boy died at a hospital after she called for an ambulance.

Matsushita became pregnant with triplets after undergoing fertility treatment. The three babies, including the boy, were born with a low birth weight on Jan. 23, 2017.

“I felt so attached to them when I saw them for the first time,” she recalled feeling in court. “They were fighting to survive.”

But raising triplets proved exceedingly more exacting than she had expected.

She fed them baby formula as many as 24 times a day together, which left her little time for sleep.

When the babies began crying at the same time, she did not know how to cradle them together and began to feel pain when she heard their cries.

After giving birth, she recuperated at her parents’ home in the prefecture for a time. But soon, she realized she could not turn to her parents for help as they ran a restaurant.

Matsushita returned to her home where her husband was waiting. He took a six-month child leave in May 2017.

But Matsushita began shouldering most of the child rearing burden by herself as he was not good at changing diapers and the infants would cry when he picked them up.

She became most concerned about the second son as his growth seemed slow, compared with the other triplets. He often threw up and cried, which made her develop a sense of difficulty in taking care of him.

Soon, she became tormented by guilt, feeling that she was a terrible person because she could not love her second son like the other two babies.

After her husband returned to work when his child leave ended, she ended up with more child-rearing responsibility and housework.

Before the triplets were born, Matsushita consulted with city counselors about her concerns about raising three children. But all she received was a guidance book on how to raise twins and a flier on contact information for a group for parents who were raising twins or multiple infants.

Her concerns were hardly eased as she felt that the Okazaki city government was ill-equipped to give assistance to a mother expecting triplets.

After the babies were born, a visiting public health nurse recommended that she use a family support center where she can put her children in temporarily when she felt overwhelmed. But Matsushita did not use the facility because she had to take the three infants for an interview in advance, which she found difficult to do.

After the mother tossed the boy, she called for an ambulance and gave the boy heart massage for about nine minutes until it arrived.

In her final statement to the court, the accused said, “I love my child, and he will remain my loved one forever. I am remorseful about causing him pain and depriving him of a future although he did nothing wrong.”

Lawyers representing her called on the lay judges for understanding of her state of mind, in which she is believed to be suffering from depression.

“She took her concerns to the local government and a hospital, but she was driven into a corner with little appropriate assistance provided,” one of her lawyers said in her defense.

But the court decided that depression played a limited role in her actions and that local administrative and health authorities’ lack of assistance did not mitigate the blame placed on her.