YOKOHAMA, Japan — The robbery-murder trial of USS Kitty Hawk Airman William Oliver Reese Jr. opened Friday with the sailor, head bowed, admitting he killed 56-year-old Yoshie Sato.

With several relatives of the savagely beaten Yokosuka woman in the crowded Yokosuka District Court courtroom, prosecutors played a surveillance video from near the Yokosuka City crime scene. On it were the sounds of the victim’s screams and a voice with an American accent demanding, “Money!”

Sato’s brother, Shuichi Sanada, said it was the first time family members had seen the video. Several began crying.

Reese is being charged with murder on the occasion of robbery. He’s being tried before a three-judge panel, Judge Masazo Ogura presiding. The Navy gave Japan custody of the case less than a week after the Jan. 3 crime. The sailor is being held in the Yokohama detention facility.

Reese, 21, wearing his Navy uniform, told the court he doesn’t know why he killed the woman: “I really can’t explain it.”

Prosecutor Toshimi Honda characterized Reese as “dissatisfied” with his $1,500 monthly Navy salary and homesick for his home state of New Jersey. She said he was “drinking heavily and picking up girls” during the holiday season leading up to Jan. 3.

The prosecutor said Sato was the second person Reese had approached around 6:30 a.m. in hopes of “stealing a purse.” Reese approached Sato and asked her directions in Japanese to the nearby Yokosuka Naval Base where he worked, Honda said.

When Sato pointed to show him, Honda said, Reese grabbed her bag and she resisted. The prosecutor said Reese punched Sato in the face and dragged her into a nearby building “to get her to stop screaming for help.”

Reese threw Sato against a cement wall as hard as he could, Honda said, “then he stomped on her belly and face a number of times.”

Sato died in a local hospital a few hours later with a ruptured right kidney and liver.

Reese took 15,000 yen (about $130) from Sato’s purse, washed his hands in a nearby convenience store bathroom and returned to Yokosuka Naval Base to work, Honda said.

“He spent the money on sex-show entertainment and drinks at the bar,” she said.

The prosecution plans to introduce more than 30 pieces of evidence, Honda said, including the security camera video, physical evidence from the crime scene and statements from eyewitnesses, Reese’s Yokohama girlfriend and Sato’s family. Reese and the victim’s family are to be questioned when the trial resumes April 24, the attorneys said.

At a news conference after Friday’s court session, Sato’s brother said his family has requested the death penalty for Reese. He said he believes Reese is lying about his claim that he had no murderous intent, because he battered Sato so much that her own brother could not recognize her.

“He should pay for his crime with his own life,” Sanada said. “My sister died at 56, in the middle of fulfilling her ambition. Though Reese is only 21, I wish his life ended.”

Capital punishment is the maximum penalty for murder on the occasion of robbery.

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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