Photo/IllutrationMika Nishiyama smiles at a news conference in Otsu on March 19 after being granted a retrial. (Taku Hosokawa)

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The Supreme Court granted a retrial to a former assistant nurse who served 12 years in prison after her compulsion to cater to investigators led to her false murder confession, her lawyers said.

The top court supported the Osaka High Court’s decision that the “murder” of a patient in 2003 in Shiga Prefecture was possibly a death from natural causes, and that the confession of the suspect was unreliable.

The decision means that Mika Nishiyama, now 39, will have a chance to clear her name at a retrial held at the Otsu District Court in Shiga Prefecture.

“I’m extremely happy,” Nishiyama said at her house in Hikone in the prefecture on March 19 after she was notified of the Supreme Court’s decision dated March 18.

Nishiyama was suspected of removing the respiratory apparatus of a 72-year-old patient at Koto Memorial Hospital in Omi, Shiga Prefecture, in May 2003, resulting in his death from a lack of oxygen.

In July 2004, she was arrested and indicted on a murder charge.

During questioning, she confessed to having removed the respiratory apparatus. But at her trial, she pleaded not guilty, saying, “I felt obliged and was induced by an investigator (to make a false confession).”

She also said she had developed an affection for one of the investigators.

Defense lawyers said Nishiyama has mild developmental disorders, which make her feel compelled to satisfy the needs of others. They said this was why she confessed to doing something that she never did.

But the Otsu District Court in November 2005 sentenced her to 12 years in prison, and the Supreme Court finalized the ruling in May 2007.

Nishiyama served the full sentence and was released from prison in August 2017.

Her defense lawyers in September 2010 sought a retrial, but the Otsu District Court rejected the request in March 2011, and the top court finalized the decision in August that year.

The lawyers made a second retrial request to the district court in September 2012 and submitted new evidence to support their argument that Nishiyama never removed the respirator.

They showed an opinion document from doctors that read, “The heart does not stop beating in three minutes after a respiratory apparatus is removed.”

The district court turned down the assertion of the doctors and rejected the second request in September 2015.

In December 2017, however, the Osaka High Court granted a retrial. The court pointed out that new data from the patient’s blood showed that he possibly died a natural death from his irregular heartbeat.

The high court also raised doubts about the trustworthiness of Nishiyama’s confession, saying: “She was induced by an investigator. There is a possibility that she was catering to his intentions when she talked to him.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Nishiyama’s lawyers issued a statement urging prosecutors to finalize her innocence as early as possible by not insisting on her guilt in the retrial.

Yoshikazu Ochiai, a senior official of the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office said, “We take the decision seriously and will act appropriately in the hearings of the retrial.”

The lead defense lawyer, Kenichi Ido, said Nishiyama’s case shows that lawyers should be present during interrogations of suspects.

“People involved in investigations and the judiciary must keep in mind that (suspects) make ‘confessions’ based on various motives,” Ido said at a news conference in Otsu on March 19. “This type of false accusation cannot be prevented even if a video camera records the questioning by investigators.”

Nishiyama said at the same news conference that she will continue to fight to win an acquittal.

“I was unlucky to have been involved in a false accusation,” she said. “But I think that I’m not unhappy because I have received encouragement from so many friends.”