Defendant in Okinawa slaying seeks change of venue
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 5, 2016
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A U.S. base worker has denied premeditation in the brutal slaying of an Okinawan woman and wants his case moved to Tokyo, saying he can’t get a fair trial on the tiny Japanese island due to extensive media coverage.
Kenneth Franklin Gadson, who worked on Kadena Air Base and goes by his Japanese wife’s family name of Shinzato, was charged last week with murder and rape resulting in death in the death of Rina Shimabukuro, 20, an Uruma office worker who disappeared in April.
Gadson confessed to the crime, though his attorney said he was under the influence of narcotics following a suicide attempt. In a statement to Stars and Stripes over the weekend, Gadson did not deny killing Shimabukuro but said the police account of the incident isn’t correct.
“I did not have the intention of killing the victim,” Gadson wrote. “Furthermore, I did not rape her. I will state the details of the case in court.”
A petition for a change of venue was filed Monday with the Supreme Court of Japan. Defense attorney Toshimitsu Takaesu requested that jurisdiction of the case be changed to Tokyo District Court.
“The content of [Gadson’s] confession and the presence of evidence in this case has been reported by media, which not only contributed to people on Okinawa to have prejudgment in this incident but to let all women on Okinawa to have the victim’s mindset with a feeling that the victim could have been me,” Takaesu wrote in the petition.
“Men and women alike share the mourning feeling with the victim’s parents and feel a close kinship with the victim’s family. This circumstance applies to every and all of the citizen judge candidates that could be called upon to participate in the criminal trial.”
The slaying has sparked protests in Okinawa, where tens of thousands turned out to call for the U.S. to leave the island where it has retained a large presence since World War II, and elsewhere in Japan.
It drew apologies from President Barack Obama, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, Marine Forces Japan commander, along with condemnations from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Okinawan Gov. Takeshi Onaga.
Takaesu said the Okinawa public is filled with “hatred” for his client, and the audience for any trial could be filled with Shimabukuro’s friends or family, which could further influence the judiciary.
He also said Gadson is in need of a mental evaluation and adequate translation services.
If convicted, Gadson could potentially face the death penalty, though it is rarely imposed in Japan for single homicides.
“I believe that the jurors not only have concluded me as guilty through the polices’ one-sided story, but also will not believe what I say despite it being the truth,” Gadson wrote to Stars and Stripes. “They believe that the case is cold-blooded and heinous and will decide to give me the death sentence.”
Gadson has been held since May 19 when he reportedly admitted to strangling Shimabukuro and led police to her body in a remote wooded area in northern Okinawa. Shimabukuro had been missing since April 28 when she told her boyfriend she was going for an evening walk. Her boyfriend reported her missing the next morning.
Gadson’s red SUV was among about 300 vehicles captured in security-camera footage from the area where the victim was last seen. Police say he was out cruising, looking for a victim to rape and kill. They have said he clubbed Shimabukuro over the head from behind, then strangled and stabbed her while attempting to rape her, but that she died before he could finish the sexual assault.