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Ex-nurse gets life in prison for 'angel of death' murders at Yokohama hospital

At least 20 patients were suspected to have died under nurse Ayumi Kuboki's care at the hospital.
At least 20 patients were suspected to have died under nurse Ayumi Kuboki's care at the hospital.PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

TOKYO - A Japanese court jailed 34-year-old former nurse Ayumi Kuboki for life on Tuesday (Nov 9) for the "angel of death" murders of three patients in September 2016.

The degree of culpability in the killings at a Yokohama hospital was the focus of the trial, after Kuboki admitted to injecting an antiseptic solution into the intravenous drips that were administered to her elderly patients.

"I wanted to avoid being accused by family members of negligence if patients died on my watch," Kuboki, who was arrested in 2018, said during her trial, which spanned 11 hearings. "I made it such that they died when I was off duty."

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, while her defence counsel pleaded for life imprisonment on the grounds that she was mentally unstable and was suffering from schizophrenia.

"The malicious crime was planned using her knowledge and position as a nurse to devise ways to prevent the crime from being discovered," said Presiding Judge Kazunori Karei. "Her motives were extremely selfish, and in doing so, she showed a very strong disregard for the sanctity of life."

The judge found Kuboki to be fully responsible for the deaths of Mr Sozo Nishikawa, 88, Mr Nobuo Yamaki, 88, and Ms Asae Okitsu, 78.

Mr Nishikawa and Mr Yamaki were terminally ill and given only weeks to live, but Ms Okitsu, who was hospitalised after she injured her right elbow and knee in a fall, was expected to be discharged soon.

But Presiding Judge Karei said he was hesitant to mete out the death penalty because Kuboki had shown grave remorse during her trial and as such will "face the weight of her guilt for the rest of her life".

"She understands the huge gravity of the crimes, and said in her final statement that she hoped to make amends with her own death," the judge added, while noting that she had apologised to bereaved family members.

The surviving relatives were angered by the verdict, with Mr Nishikawa's eldest daughter saying in a statement through lawyers that she questioned the court's value judgment.

Mr Yamaki's eldest son Nobuyuki, 61, told NHK he was not convinced, and urged prosecutors to appeal. He said: "Given her selfish motives, it is strange for her not to be sentenced to death."

Although the charges focused on three victims, at least 20 patients were suspected to have died under Kuboki's care at the institution, which was formerly known as the Oguchi Hospital. It is now called the Yokohama Hajime Hospital.

Police said during the probe that it was difficult to ascertain the precise cause of death of many of the elderly victims, whose remains were cremated. But 48 people died during the three months when Kuboki worked at the hospital.

Hospital officials did not suspect anything was amiss until a nurse noticed bubbles in an intravenous drip for a patient.

Presiding Judge Karei found in his judgment that Kuboki, who was introverted and had difficulty forming friendships, knew all along that she was not cut out to be a nurse. Yet she felt pressured into working as one by her mother, who had advised her to study nursing and paid for her school fees.

She first worked as a nurse at a rehabilitation ward, and reported feeling a sense of fulfilment upon seeing a patient who was admitted in a wheelchair manage to walk out of hospital.

Things changed, however, when she began caring for the terminally ill, the judge said in his verdict. He noted that she felt profound duress when bereaved relatives of patients who died vented their frustrations at her, and this was compounded by her poor communication skills.

"I want her to face the weight of her sins by atoning and walking the path of rehabilitation in her lifetime," Presiding Judge Karei said. "It cannot be said that a death penalty is unavoidable in this case."

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