Photo/IllutrationA courtroom sketch of Mitsuru Nakata on Dec. 13 as he listens to the verdict in his murder case. (Sketch by Shiho Miyazaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

FUKUOKA--The district court here Dec. 13 handed the death sentence to a former police officer for murdering his wife and two children despite the lack of a confession or hard evidence.

Lawyers for Mitsuru Nakata, 41, immediately appealed the verdict.

Nakata held the rank of sergeant until he was dismissed by the Fukuoka prefectural police following his indictment for murdering his wife, Yukiko, 38, his son, Ryosuke, 9, and daughter, Miyu, 6.

Nakata maintained his innocence throughout the trial, even going so far as to accuse prosecutors of trying to frame him because there was no hard evidence or motive for him to kill his two children.

According to the Fukuoka District Court verdict, the three family members were apparently strangled at their home in Ogori, Fukuoka Prefecture, on June 6, 2017.

Prosecutors built their case on circumstantial evidence to show the defendant was the only person capable of committing the crimes.

The court accepted the testimony of forensic analysts who estimated the time of deaths between late on June 5 and around 6:30 a.m. the following day.

It noted that Nakata left home at 6:53 a.m. to go to work, and concluded a third party could not have committed the crimes. The court reasoned that if an intruder was responsible, Nakata would not have gone to work as if nothing wrong had happened.

There were also no signs of forced entry into the home.

The court also said DNA samples of both Nakata and his wife that were detected around Yukiko's neck led to the supposition that Nakata likely strangled her with his bare hands.

It also referred to Nakata's built-up anger over his wife's constant scolding as another reason.

However, the court ruled out the possibility that Yukiko had killed her children, citing a plan for the three of them to go on an outing the following day. That left the defendant as the only person capable of killing the two children, the court ruled.

It acknowledged that no motive could be ascertained since Nakata had maintained his innocence all along.

However, the court deemed the death sentence was appropriate not only for the shocking nature of a crime committed by a police officer, but also the fact that Nakata had an obvious intent to kill, given that he strangled his three family members one after another.

(This article was written by Koshiro Omori, Eishi Kado and Tsubasa Yokoyama.)