Attorney for fatal hit-and-run suspect says interrogation statements skewed
Stars and Stripes November 18, 2009
YOMITAN, Okinawa — The Japanese attorney representing a soldier being held in connection with a fatal hit-and-run incident has asked prosecutors to require videotaping of any future questioning of the suspect.
Attorney Toshimitsu Takaesu told Stars and Stripes on Monday that he also has advised the soldier to remain silent until videotaping is approved.
“From the accused’s statement, I have great apprehension that continuing the current style of interrogation and having the accused give statements and signing it would twist the court’s finding and lead to violation of the accused’s rights,” Takaesu wrote in his request to the prosecutors.
The Army sergeant, whose name is being withheld pending charges, is in the custody of military authorities on Torii Station. He voluntarily submitted to questioning last week by Okinawa police concerning the Nov. 7 hit-and-run incident that killed 66-year-old Masakazu Hokama.
Takaesu said the soldier told police that he may have struck something, but he had “not caused a death by hitting somebody” and was concerned that his statement was misinterpreted when translated into Japanese.
According to Takaesu’s written request to prosecutor’s to allow videotaping, the soldier said he’d signed the statement because he was “advised by military personnel that it’s important to cooperate with the police.”
But Takaesu said his client told him he couldn’t “really understand the translator’s English and the statement is that of the police officer who has taken my story and used it in a different connotation.”
The soldier has admitted driving a car owned by a friend to a body shop in Yomitan the afternoon of Nov. 7, several hours before Hokama’s body was found near a two-lane road winding through an agricultural area near Torii Station.
Takaesu said the soldier told him he hit something in the “pitch black” darkness around 4:30 a.m.
“He said he got out of the car, but did not see any person,” Takaesu told Stars and Stripes. “The only thing he saw was some bushes and fences and he thought he hit a branch overhanging the road.”
Later in the day he saw the car was damaged more than he realized and he took it to a local garage for repairs, Takaesu said.
“He did not notice the hair and blood [on the vehicle] until police pointed it out,” Takaesu said. “He was quite upset. He is a medic and would of course have rendered first aid if he had known there was an injured person.”
He said the soldier told him he had spent the night at several Okinawa entertainment districts but had not been drinking and had just finished eating breakfast at a local McDonald’s.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.