Attorney: Former Marine charged with rape, murder suffered mental illness

Kenneth Franklin Gadson, a former Marine working as a civilian at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, has been charged with murder and rape resulting in death in the spring slaying of a 20-year-old local woman.



CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The lawyer for a former Marine charged with raping and murdering a Japanese woman claims his client has long suffered from mental illness and hallucinations, setting the stage for a possible defense in a case that enflamed U.S.-Japanese relations.

Kenneth Franklin Gadson, a civilian employee at Kadena Air Base’s Mediatti cable and internet provider who goes by his Japanese wife’s surname of Shinzato, was charged by Japanese prosecutors two months after Rina Shimabukuro, 20, disappeared April 28. Gadson took police to the wooded area where her remains were found.

The brutal slaying horrified the Japanese, triggering an uproar of anti-American sentiment on the tiny island prefecture, where half of about 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are based.

President Barack Obama apologized for the crime during his May visit to Japan following a strong rebuke from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

No trial date has been set. Defense attorney Toshimitsu Takaesu said that the case is slated to be heard by six jurors from Okinawa and a three-judge Naha District Court panel. Gadson could face the death penalty if convicted, though it is rarely imposed in Japan for single homicides.

During Japanese police questioning after surveillance video spotted his red SUV in the area where Shimabukuro vanished, Gadson confessed to strangling her, Takaesu and police say.

In an interview with Stars and Stripes, Takaesu said his client was questioned while under the influence of sleeping pills after a suicide attempt and has no recollection of confessing.

Officials from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service told Stars and Stripes they were contacting authorities to determine whether there were similarities to unsolved homicides in the area or near his previous duty stations.

The U.S. Marine Corps has said little about the case, although it provided a redacted copy of Gadson’s personnel records that contained no indication of mental illness.

Like the U.S., Japan takes mental illness into account in court proceedings. Japan’s penal code includes provisions for insanity and diminished capacity. An act of insanity is not punishable in the prison system, while an act of diminished capacity can lead to a reduction in punishment. Where the accused will be sent — prison or a mental hospital — is generally handed down with the verdict.

In the interview with Stars and Stripes, Takaesu said his client had long suffered from “visual and auditory” hallucinations. “It is questionable how much he can discern is real. It seems that he watches what he does through a filter … I will determine if we need to have a psychiatric evaluation on him after I obtain the necessary information” from Gadson’s hometown of New York City.

Health care paperwork from Gadson’s youth, provided to Stars and Stripes by Takaesu, does not substantiate claims of hallucinations but paints a picture of a troubled youth, a broken home and a parent ill-equipped to rear him.

A “termination summary” from Upper Manhattan Mental Health Center Inc., dated Aug. 14, 1997, says Gadson had been a patient for more than four years. He was brought in by his mother for therapy after poor academic performance, disruptive classroom behavior, temper tantrums and defiance toward her.

The paperwork describes Gadson’s mother as “cognitively limited,” and says the two had an “enmeshed relationship,” which complicated his treatment.

“When he was a teenager, [Gadson] often inflicted violence on his mother and left home for days without telling her,” Takaesu said. “His memories of his mother are mentally blocked.”

Gadson’s birth certificate lists no father, Takaesu said.

During the course of his treatment, Gadson saw the same therapist for weekly solo sessions, monthly sessions that included his mother, and periodic group sessions, the paperwork says. Treatment goals included improved motivation and academic performance, impulse control, responsiveness to authority figures and ability to talk about his feelings.

However, therapists were apparently unable to connect with Gadson, who “passively resisted any emotional closeness” to his therapist, the paperwork said.

Treatment ended when Gadson went into foster care in January 1997. The documents say he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and socialized, non-aggressive, conduct disorder.

Conduct disorder is often associated with other mental problems, such as ADHD, which has been known to make the disorder worse and harder to treat, said a 2005 report drafted by a global team of experts in conjunction with the French National Medical Research Institute.

“Conduct disorder in children and adolescents may be expressed in the form of any of a range of diverse behavioral patterns, from the frequent and intense temper tantrums and persistent disobedience of the difficult child to the delinquent’s serious acts of aggression, such as theft, violence and rape,” the report said. “The major characteristic of the disorder is the violation of the rights of others and social norms.”

Takaesu said his client told him that his anti-social behavior got worse as he lived with five or six families in foster care. He said he was medicated with the anti-depressant Zoloft, though he didn’t have a prescription. Stars and Stripes could not verify those claims.

At 18, Gadson moved alone into an apartment that was within walking distance of his mother’s home, Takaesu said. Their volatile relationship continued.

New York officials did not provide information about Gadson or any potential criminal activity associated with him, citing privacy concerns. A search of public records did not indicate he had been charged with a felony, which would have prevented his service in the Marine Corps.

After joining the Marines in 2007, Gadson said he began suffering from insomnia that intensified despite the use of sleeping aids. According to his personnel record, Gadson underwent training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina before he was assigned to Okinawa in supply administration and operations, where he stayed until September 2011, when he reported to Marine Barracks Washington. He left active duty in September 2014 with an honorable discharge and moved back to Okinawa, his attorney said.

Gadson married an Okinawan woman and they had a child in March. After the birth, his wife began pressuring him to bring the child to meet his mother. Gadson reluctantly agreed, though the visit never occurred.

After their marriage, Gadson legally changed his name to Shinzato because he said he didn’t like Gadson and its connection to his mother, Takaesu said.

Gadson told his attorney that he left the military because he did not want to take his wife to a new post in the states. He did not want her to be influenced by U.S. society, which he said is not a “caring society.”

Discussing his wife is the only time he has gotten emotional, Takaesu said. She told the attorney that Gadson never showed emotion aside from depression and vented by watching violent movies, repeatedly replaying the same scenes.

“For him, women are either good or they are his enemy,” said Takaesu, who said Gadson described them as “sneaky.” “There is no gray zone. Asked how he can tell if the woman is a good person or not, he said, ‘It’s in the eye. You can tell.’”

burke.matt@stripes.com; sumida.chiyomi@stripes.com

Rina Shimabukuro is seen in an image from a Fuji Television broadcast. Kenneth Franklin Gadson, a former Marine working as a civilian at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, has been charged with murder and rape resulting in death in the spring slaying of the 20-year-old local woman.

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