Gadson attempts to show remorse as murder trial wraps up on Okinawa
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 24, 2017
NAHA CITY, Okinawa — For the first time since his arrest last year, the former U.S. base worker accused of raping and killing a 20-year-old Japanese woman attempted to express remorse during the closing arguments of his murder trial Friday on Okinawa.
Kenneth Franklin Gadson, 33, was back at Naha District Court after two days of proceedings Nov. 16-17, in which the former Marine pleaded not guilty to murdering Uruma office worker Rina Shimabukuro on the night of April 28, 2016. Gadson admitted to charges of rape resulting in death and the illegal disposal of a body, telling the court he “had no plans to kill her.”
After Friday’s closing arguments from both the prosecution and defense, Gadson — again wearing a white T-shirt, blue pants and black plastic sandals — was given a final chance to speak.
Aside from reading prepared statements, he had been silent up to that point. Defendants who show remorse and apologize are sometimes given leniency in the Japanese justice system.
“I’m not a bad person, and I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” Gadson said, sheepishly, while briefly facing the stunned audience.
In an awkward moment, Gadson was asked to repeat his statement several times for the court translator as the final proceedings of his three-day murder trial concluded.
Gadson’s fate is now in the hands of a panel of three judges and six jurors, who will render a verdict next Friday. The prosecution is seeking life in prison with hard labor.
Shimabukuro’s parents asked the court on Nov. 17 to consider capital punishment for Gadson. His mother said he “should not be allowed to live” for the brutal slaying that riled many Japanese and triggered massive anti-American protests on an island where half of about 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are based.
Shimabukuro disappeared after going out for a walk at about 8 p.m. on April 28, 2016. Police immediately suspected she had been the victim of a crime or had suffered an accident, because she left behind her car and wallet. Her phone’s GPS indicated she was last in an industrial area near her home in Uruma’s Suzaki district.
Police spotted a red SUV owned by Gadson — then a civilian employee at a Kadena Air Base cable and internet provider who went by his Japanese wife’s surname of Shinzato — while checking vehicles captured by security camera footage in the area.
Police say he admitted to strangling Shimabukuro and led officers to her body. Gadson’s attorney, Toshimitsu Takaesu, argued that his client was under the influence of sleeping pills at the time of the confession due to a suicide attempt.
Because of his confession, the trial was seen by many as a mere formality. Gadson — who sometimes glared intensely and at other times appeared lost in thought during Friday’s proceedings — sat across from prosecutors, listening as they detailed his alleged crimes.
The crux of their case hinges on the defendant’s intent and premeditation, which can carry a stiff sentence.
Summing up their case Friday, prosecutors said Gadson had admitted to striking the victim with some sort of hard object, that he had choked her with two hands, and that he stabbed her during the initial assault — all signs that he intended to end Shimabukuro’s life.
Gadson’s attorneys countered that he had meant only to incapacitate her by choking her, that he had not stabbed her during the initial assault, and if he had, investigators would have found more blood. They said he poked her with a knife, later to make sure she was dead before dumping the body.
They also reiterated that Gadson’s initial confession was tainted because he was under the influence of sleeping pills.
Prosecutors pushed back.
“He said the reason he gave up on raping her was because he found out that [the victim] was menstruating,” a prosecutor said. “It was extremely shocking and he remembered it clearly … due to these reasons, murderous intent can be confirmed.”
Prosecutors discounted Gadson’s past claims of severe mental illness, and the defense did not bring them up on Friday.
In his closing statement, Takaesu asked the court to be fair in its judgment of his client.
“I’m not asking for the court to lighten the defendant’s sentence,” he said. “I won’t complain if the sentence is the same as what is given to a Japanese person.”
A verdict is expected on Dec. 1.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.