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Prosecutors demanded life imprisonment Wednesday for a 34-year-old man on trial at the Tokyo District Court for hijacking an All Nippon Airways jumbo jet on a domestic flight and stabbing its pilot to death in July 1999.
The central argument in the trial is whether the defendant, Yuji Nishizawa, was psychologically fit at the time to take responsibility for hijacking the Boeing 747, stabbing the jet’s captain, Naoyuki Nagashima, 51, in the chest with a kitchen knife and briefly taking the controls of the plane.
After killing the pilot, Nishizawa briefly piloted the aircraft, which was carrying 503 passengers and 14 crew members, and descended at one point to an altitude of only 300 meters.
“The defendant was capable to take responsibility but was under the influence of antidepressant drugs at the time of the crime,” the prosecution said in explaining its demand for life imprisonment. Nishizawa apologized for the pilot’s death before the prosecutors made the demand. His defense has admitted to the allegations but claimed he was in a state of diminished capacity or insanity.
The trial’s first psychiatric evaluation, requested by the defense, diagnosed Nishizawa as having Asperger’s syndrome, a kind of developmental disorder where the patient has normal intelligence and language development but exhibits autistic-like behavior.
In a second evaluation requested by the prosecutors, Hideo Hosaki, professor emeritus in Keio University, concluded that the defendant was “under significant influence of antidepressant drugs and was in a state of diminished capability at the time of the crime.”
The prosecution said Nishizawa’s behavior was “rational” at that time and his killing of the pilot was “part of his enormous objectives” of what they called a “well premeditated” crime.
The “selfish and malicious” killing of the pilot could have led to a disaster of the plane crashing,” the prosecution said in stressing the graveness of the crime.
According to court papers, Nishizawa intruded into the cockpit of the ANA flight, which was bound for Sapporo from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, on the morning of July 23, 1999.
During the trial, Nishizawa confessed to have “considered flying the plane under the Rainbow Bridge,” which links Tokyo’s Shibaura area with the Odaiba area in Tokyo Bay.
The incident prompted the government to tighten security measures in airports across Japan, including setting up a gate outside the baggage claim area in Haneda airport to prevent non-passengers from entering.