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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: April 19/May 17, 2006
Date of arrest: June 4, 2006
Date of birth: 1973
Victims profile: Ayaka Hatakeyama, 9 (her daughter) / Goken Yoneyama, 7 (neighbor boy)
Method of murder: Drowning (pushing her off a bridge into a river) / Strangulation
Location: Fujisato, Akita Prefecture, Japan
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on March 19, 2008
photo gallery

Akita woman who killed daughter, boy gets life term

March 20, 2008

AKITA (Kyodo) A 35-year-old woman was sentenced to life Wednesday for murdering her 9-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old neighbor boy in the town of Fujisato, Akita Prefecture, in 2006.

The high-profile crimes by Suzuka Hatakeyama were "heinous," but she avoided the death sentence demanded by prosecutors because "the murder of the boy was not premeditated," Akita District Court presiding Judge Toshiro Fujii said in handing down the ruling.

Hatakeyama was convicted of killing her daughter, Ayaka, 9, in April 2006 by pushing her off a bridge into a river, and strangling Goken Yoneyama, 7, the following month at her home.

The court applied the charge of murder to both killings, rejecting the defense argument that the charge of negligence resulting in death should be applied to the daughter's death.

The defense immediately appealed the ruling to a higher court.

The court determined that Hatakeyama had intended to kill her daughter, rejecting her counsel's claim that she had not.

Hatakeyama initially confessed to investigators that she intended to kill her daughter, according to police, and the prosecutors claimed her confession proved Hatakeyama's intent to kill.

The court said her confession to investigators was trustworthy.

It said Hatakeyama felt her daughter was a nuisance, the contention made by prosecutors.

The court said that when the girl asked to see some fish, Hatakeyama's irritation intensified and she pushed her daughter off the bridge into the river.

Hatakeyama's counsel had denied she had intended to kill her daughter, maintaining she just brushed the girl off when her daughter, who was sitting on the railing of the bridge, tried to hold onto her.

The court said Hatakeyama was mentally competent when she strangled Yoneyama.

The defendant had admitted killing the boy, but her mental competence at the time was the other focal point of the trial.

The defense claimed she was in a state of diminished capacity.

On the boy's slaying, the prosecutors said Hatakeyama killed him to "divert suspicions from the public."

Judge Fujii took up the prosecutors' claim, saying Hatakeyama initially came up with the idea to "abduct" Yoneyama to divert the police investigation from her daughter's death.

But after the boy was invited to Hatakeyama's house on May 17, 2006, she felt sudden jealousy and hatred toward him when she saw him happily playing and suddenly decided to kill him, the judge said.

Hatakeyama then strangled the boy with a cord and later dumped his corpse on a river bank.

These circumstances, however, made it difficult for the court to say the murder was premeditated, the judge said.

At end of the court session, Hatakeyama turned toward Yoneyama's parents and made a "dogeza" deep bow a show of apology in an extreme manner.

She said, "I'm sorry I took your son." Yoneyama's mother apparently ignored the apology by closing her eyes and turning her back.

Neighbors showed mixed reactions to Wednesday's ruling, with some expressing anger and others accepting that she was sentenced to life instead of death.

"I wonder why (Hatakeyama) doesn't deserve death," a 70-year-old farmer said. "I believe the sentence is too lenient."

But an 80-year-old woman said a life term is as heavy as the death penalty. "Execution takes only seconds, but a life term takes years. It's better to give (Hatakeyama) years to repent her crime," she said.

Wednesday's trial session drew some 3,000 people who lined up outside the court hoping for one of just 26 seats allocated for observers.


Death of two kids in Akita

Suzuka Hatakeyama is the 33-year-old mother of a 9-year-old girl, Ayaka, who lives in a rural area of Noshiro City in Akita Prefecture. On April 9, Ayaka went missing and was found dead in the nearby river the next day. After a quick autopsy, police investigators concluded that Ayaka had accidentally fallen into the stream, and drowned there.

But the bereaved mother insisted that it couldn't have been an accident because her daughter had never played at the riverside. Even in April, water was cold enough to deter her and there still was lingering snow here and there in the holm. While disparaging the police as incompetent, Hatakeyama launched her own investigation by asking her neighbors for reports of sightings of Ayaka in the hope of getting a clue to the real cause of her death.

Then on May 17, a 7-year-old boy by the name of Goken Yoneyama went missing. The Yoneyama family lives two doors down from the Hatakeyama's place. This time the media gadflies, as well as the police, were quick enough to make the prime suspect out of Hatakeyama in the Goken's disappearance, simply because by then they had been unfavorably impressed by the weird woman who had shown a deep-seated animosity toward them. In fact this is the modus operandi the alliance between the media and law enforcement always uses in Japan to smoke out the perpetrator, especially when their target is a defenseless social outcast.

On June 4, Hatakeyama was arrested, and five days later confessed to strangling Goken to death so "the 7-year-old kid could play with her deceased daughter [as he used to]" in the better world. But later she added, through her court-appointed attorney, that she had also thought the police investigators would reopen the probe into the mysterious death of her daughter if she killed the boy.

Although the initial accident theory about the death of Ayaka Hatakeyama hasn't really been overturned to date, some speculate it must have been a suicide because the mother had often been seen by faceless/nameless neighbors (Photo 2) neglecting her parental duties. But apparently the Akita Prefectural Police Department has started having the media use the same trick to subtly frame the 33-year-old divorcee up for killing her own daughter, as well.

If and when the murder case(s) is (are) fully established, maybe it's just yet another heinous crime we will be seeing uncovered. And yet, there is one distinctive feature in this case which has been noticeable all along -- the media's reactions to the single parent have been exceptionally merciless.

Actually I even suspect it's the other way around; it's Suzuka Hatakeyama who reacted to the media, and perhaps beyond, because after all the society is responsible for her ignominious life and the media have made her feel even more "estranged from her community" (The Daily Yomiuri, June 6). To paraphrase, she committed the alleged criminal act in retaliation for everything the society had done to her.


Suspect hints she killed Akita boy as evidence mounts

June 7, 2006

AKITA (Kyodo) An Akita Prefecture woman under arrest on suspicion of dumping the body of a slain 7-year-old neighbor boy along a river hinted Tuesday she killed him, as evidence against her mounted, investigative sources said.

The sources also said Suzuka Hatakeyama, 33, told police she carried Goken Yoneyama's body to her car, drove to the Yoneshiro River and dumped the corpse in the grass along the riverbank.

The police have detected traces of what they believe are the boy's blood and urine in Hatakeyama's home at the entrance to and inside her deceased daughter's room as well as in the trunk of her vehicle, they said. Hatakeyama's daughter, Ayaka, died in April.

From the evidence, the police think it likely the boy was killed outside the girl's room.

Hatakeyama had admitted dumping the boy's corpse but had denied strangling him, the sources said, without elaborating on her changed stance during questioning.

The boy disappeared on his way home from school at around 3:30 p.m. May 17 and was found strangled by the river the following day. He was a first-grader at Fujisato Elementary School.

Police are carrying out tests to determine if an obi confiscated from one of the places searched in connection with the case was used to strangle the boy, the sources said.

According to the investigation, several items, including hair collected from the victim's body and the riverbank, matched those found in Hatakeyama's house.

Police said late Monday that fibers collected from the boy's clothes match those detected in the carpet in the trunk of the woman's car.

Hatakeyama had been living alone since her 9-year-old daughter, a schoolmate of Yoneyama's, was found dead in a river about 2 km from where Yoneyama was found, on April 10.

The girl had disappeared the previous day.

Police initially ruled out foul play, but after the Yoneyama slaying, they reopened the case to investigate whether there was a connection.


Woman held over Akita boy's slaying

Her child died in April

June 5, 2006

AKITA (Kyodo) A 33-year-old woman was arrested Sunday in Fujisato, Akita Prefecture, over the slaying of a 7-year-old boy last month, investigative sources said.

Suzuka Hatakeyama lives two houses from the victim's home and is the mother of a 9-year-old girl who was found dead in a river April 10.

During police questioning that lasted throughout the day, she denied she killed the boy and dumped his body, the sources said.

The two children went to the same school. Hatakeyama's daughter, Ayaka, was found dead several kilometers from where the boy's body was found.

The police earlier ruled out foul play in her death, but after the boy's slaying they began looking for links between the two incidents.

Officers searched Hatakeyama's house, her parents' home in Noshiro and some vehicles.

Goken Yoneyama, a first-grader at Fujisato Elementary School, was found dead May 18 near the banks of the Yoneshiro River in Noshiro after going missing the previous day.

The girl was found in the Fujikoto River.

Yoneyama was last seen at a park about 60 meters from his home, police said.

Hatakeyama has denied any wrongdoing, earlier telling Kyodo News and other media organizations she was at home alone around the time the boy went missing and she noticed nothing unusual outside her house.

An autopsy of the boy found he had been strangled. Police said they suspect he was carried to the river after being strangled with a rope elsewhere.

About 70 police officers dusted for fingerprints at the entrance of the woman's house and confiscated materials from her parents' home Sunday.

They have been conducting DNA testing on hair provided by local residents.

The police have also obtained fibers from a piece of cloth believed to have been used to cover the boy's body before it was dumped.

They planned to continue searching the woman's house and other places Monday, the sources said.

People in Fujisato expressed mixed feelings Sunday.

"I haven't seen children playing outside here since the incident took place," said a woman in her 50s who lives near the boy's house. She said she hopes the town will return to normal as soon as possible.

Some residents placed flowers and food on the riverbank where Yoneyama's body was found and offered prayers.



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