Suspect in grisly 2016 Sagamihara care home murders pleads guilty as trial opens

The man accused of the grisly 2016 murders of 19 disabled people at a care home in the city of Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, pleaded not guilty Wednesday at the opening of his lay judge trial, with his defense team insisting he was mentally incompetent.

Satoshi Uematsu, 29, admitted at his first hearing at the Yokohama District Court to the charges against him of carrying out the stabbing rampage — one of Japan’s worst mass killings. But the trial was adjourned soon after it started because Uematsu behaved violently.

Uematsu voiced his “deep apologies to everyone” but then started shaking violently and was restrained, prompting the hearing to be suspended.

Before the court was adjourned, his lawyer claimed he is not guilty on grounds of diminished capacity.

A former employee of the care center outside Tokyo, Uematsu reportedly said he wanted to eradicate all disabled people in the horrifying July 26 attack at the Tsukui Yamayuri En center.

The 29-year-old is accused of breaking into the facility and moving room to room, searching for victims. Nineteen people were killed and 26 injured — half of them seriously.

He turned himself in at a police station, carrying bloodied knives and admitting the attack to officers.

It emerged later that Uematsu had left his job at the home just months before the attack, and had been forcibly hospitalized after telling colleagues he intended to kill disabled people at the center.

But he was discharged after 12 days when a doctor deemed him not a threat.

He faces six charges, including murder, and faces the death penalty if convicted on some of the counts.

Since his arrest, Uematsu has shown no remorse and continued to espouse the views that apparently motivated the attack.

In interviews with the Mainichi Shimbun, he said those with mental disabilities “have no heart,” claiming “there’s no point in living” for them.

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

“I don’t think I’m innocent but it wasn’t something punishable by death.”

Despite his statements, his lawyers reportedly plan to enter a plea of not guilty on Uematsu’s behalf, arguing he was unable to tell right from wrong at the time of the attack because he was on drugs.

A test following his arrest reportedly showed traces of marijuana in his system.

In a recent interview with the Jiji Press agency, Uematsu said he would not deny in court having carried out the attack.

“It’s depressing,” he said. “It’s like going there to get insulted.”

And he appeared to take pride in the devastating rampage.

“I did my best,” he told Jiji.

Uematsu’s self-styled mission to rid the country of people with disabilities shocked Japan, with experts and activists raising questions about whether others in the country 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 at fully integrating people with disabilities, and the government last year was forced to admit data on hiring people with disabilities had been padded to meet quotas.

Uematsu appeared to have been open about his prejudices well before the attack, even delivering a letter to the speaker of the Lower House in which he threatened to kill hundreds of disabled people.

The letter reportedly clearly outlined a plan for night-time attacks against Tsukui Yamayuri En and another facility.

In the rambling letter, he presented a vision of a society in which those with serious disabilities could be euthanized with the approval of family members since “handicapped people only create unhappiness.”

Japan has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the developed world, and the attack ranks among the worst ever in the country.

At the time, it was the deadliest since 1938, when a man armed with an axe, sword and rifle went on a rampage that left 30 people dead.

In 2019 an arson attack at a building belonging to the Kyoto Animation studio killed at least 36 people.

The court is expected to hand down a verdict against Uematsu on March 16.

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