It started as a family argument and ended in tragedy – a teenage girl was stabbed to death by her elderly grandfather, which shook a nation.
in a court in western Japan Last month, 88-year-old Susumu Tomizawa admitted to killing his granddaughter Tomomi, 16, nearly two years ago — but, he said, he doesn’t remember doing so.
is tomizawa Alzheimer’s, a progressive and irreversible neurological disorder that destroys neurons and shrinks areas of the brain. In court, his lawyers argued that he should not be held criminally responsible because his illness leads to dementia, a condition characterized by multiple cognitive deficits such as memory loss.
“He was insane at the time due to dementia and alcohol consumption … and therefore pleaded not guilty,” he said.
But the Fukui city court did not agree with this.
On May 31, Tomizawa was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for murder.
The case shocked many Japan An aging nation with a growing number of elderly dementia patients.
The trial, which was live-streamed from the courtroom, was closely watched and many expressed sympathy for those who expressed pity for the loss of Tomizawa and Tomomi’s family.
The court heard that Tomizawa and Tomomi were staying at their home in Fukui City.
On the night of September 9, 2020, there was an altercation between the two, due to which the teenager died.
Tomizawa remembered that he used to drink heavily in the evenings. Distraught and drunk, he took a 17 cm (about 7 inches) long kitchen knife and broke into Tomomi’s bedroom, where he repeatedly knelt on her neck, the court heard last month.
The court heard the alarm sounded when Tomizawa called his eldest son to say that he had found Tomomi’s blood-soaked body. As soon as the information was received, the police reached the spot and arrested the old man.
Tomizawa’s mental state was a major focus in his trial as doctors, lawyers and judges debated whether he had intentionally killed his granddaughter.
Doctors assessing his condition insisted that his motive was to kill him. “His actions were purposeful and consistent with the intent to kill,” forensic psychiatrist Hiroki Nakagawa said. told the court,
Prosecutors said the elderly man was able to control his actions despite his illness and “had the ability to judge right and wrong”.
In its ruling, the court acknowledged Tomizawa’s Alzheimer’s, but said he understands the weight of his actions. “After careful examination and consultation with the respondent, we [made] A careful decision,” said Judge Yoshinobu Kawamura.
“The defendant was in a state of mental exhaustion at the time of the offense and had great difficulty in judging right or wrong or restraining himself from committing the crime – but he was not in a state where he was unable to do so.”
According to experts, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia affecting elderly people.
“It’s a degenerative brain disease,” said Jason Freezel, a psychologist who specializes in criminal court cases. “In almost all cases, a person’s abilities gradually decline over time.”
This disease attacks the brain and as it progresses, the memory becomes weak. Arizona State University professor Frizel said symptoms such as paranoia, agitation, delusions and even violent outbursts are likely.
“Of course not every patient will [display] same set of symptoms. Situational context can also play a role in aggression – whether a patient is afraid of places or people they don’t recognize,” he said.
Jacob Rajesh, a senior forensic psychiatrist at Promise Healthcare Facility in Singapore, said on the rapid rise in Alzheimer’s cases, “It will be difficult to give an exact description of what really happened.”
“There is also the question of fitness to stand at trial – is a person fit enough to give evidence on the stand and plead guilty or not guilty?” They said.
Experts said crimes involving dementia patients are also extremely complex.
“How appropriately we can explain their behavior through illness, as opposed to other motivations such as anger or vengeance,” Frizzell said. He also threw light on moral and ethical value judgments.
“How can we effectively or fairly prosecute someone who may be completely debilitated by his illness in just a few years? Is mercy for a convicted person with dementia in line with the community’s notion of justice? Is it? Antonym?
Japan has the largest elderly population in the world. According to government records, more than 20% of its residents are over the age of 65, and the number of Japanese centenarians is Emerging,
Dementia mostly affects the elderly and more than 4.6 million people are believed to be living with the condition in Japan. Experts say the numbers will increase significantly as the country is rapidly aging.
Violent crimes committed by Japanese dementia patients are rare, but in a similar case in 2014 in Tomizawa, a 72-year-old man with dementia, an 82-year-old woman with dementia, was stabbed to death in a hospice. He received a reduced prison sentence of three years because of his condition.
“Prisons in Japan are full of elderly inmates suffering from dementia,” said Koichi Hamai, a criminal justice expert and professor of law at Ryukoku University in Kyoto. “The number of elderly prisoners is increasing and we have to take various measures [address it],
According to government figures, Tomomi lived with her grandfather in Fukui, one of Japan’s least populous prefectures, where one in three residents is over 65.
Details of his life were scarce but observers highlighted issues such as aggression and domestic violence that Alzheimer’s patients and their frustrated caregivers often faced.
Forensic psychiatrist Rajesh said, “Dementia patients have been known to act against those who care for them who are closest to them.”
“patient” [like Tomizawa] The stay at home required a lot of monitoring and management, and it was not immediately clear whether he had any. ,