Gadson pleads not guilty to Okinawan woman’s murder, but admits other charges
NAHA CITY, Okinawa — A former Air Force contractor admitted to some charges in the killing of a 20-year-old Okinawan woman last year. However, he pleaded not guilty to murder and insisted her death was not planned, during the first day of his trial Thursday at Naha District Court.
Kenneth Franklin Gadson, 33, is charged with murder, rape resulting in death and the illegal disposal of a body in the death of Uruma office worker Rina Shimabukuro on the night of April 28, 2016. He is being tried under Japan’s lay judge system with three judges and six jurors.
Gadson, a former Marine who was a civilian employee at a Kadena Air Base cable and internet provider at the time of his arrest, glanced at the crowd as he entered the courtroom wearing a white T-shirt, blue pants and black plastic sandals.
Shimabukuro’s family was also in attendance. They later wept as details of her killing were presented in court.
“I plead guilty to rape resulting in death and illegal disposal of the body,” Gadson said in a prepared statement when asked to speak on the charges. “I plead not guilty to the murder. I had no plans to kill her.” Shimabukuro disappeared after going out for a walk that April evening. Police suspected she was the victim of a crime or had been in an accident, because she left her car and wallet behind.
Police spotted a red SUV owned by Gadson — who goes by his Japanese wife’s last name, Shinzato — while checking vehicles captured by security cameras in the area.
The brutal slaying shocked the Japanese and triggered massive anti-American protests on an island where half of about 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are based. Then-President Barack Obama was forced to apologize for the crime during his historic visit to Hiroshima a month later, following a strong rebuke from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Police say Gadson admitted to strangling Shimabukuro and led officers to her body. His attorney, Toshimitsu Takaesu, had argued that his client was under the influence of sleeping pills at the time of the confession due to a suicide attempt.
Thursday’s proceedings mostly focused on whether the killing was premeditated.
Gadson told the court he planned to knock Shimabukuro unconscious, take her to a hotel in a suitcase to rape her and release her afterward. After failing to knock her out, he panicked and was not able to complete his plan, he said.
Gadson refused to testify further when asked by prosecutors if he had anything else to say in court.
“I choose to remain silent,” he said.
The defendant sat expressionless and listened to the proceedings with his chin resting on his hand, sometimes rubbing it.
Next, prosecutors told the court that Gadson approached Shimabukuro “with murderous intent,” struck her with a metal stick, dragged her into the bushes, strangled her and then stabbed her with a knife to repress her.
However, the prosecution said Gadson did not actually go through with the rape after discovering that his victim was menstruating. He then put Shimabukuro in a suitcase and drove to a wooded area in Onna Village to dump the body, using gardening soil prepared ahead of time to cover her remains.
“He failed in his attempt to rape her but he murdered the victim as he had planned,” a prosecutor said.
The defense argued that Gadson did not stab Shimabukuro until after dumping her body, in an effort to check whether she was dead. They said Gadson did not strike and choke her with the intention of killing her.
Prosecutors then presented the confession Gadson made to police, claiming that his words were rambling and incoherent. However, after meeting with a lawyer during a break from the questioning, his recollection of the incident became clearer and he insisted he had no intention of killing the woman.
The defense countered with a statement Gadson made to his lawyer last spring in which he said Shimabukuro had hit her head on the ground as he pulled her into the bushes. She made a deep groan, so he strangled her by wrapping his right arm around her neck to knock her out. He did not hear her voice after that. Gadson said her body was heavy and unresponsive as he placed it into the suitcase. He also said he stabbed her after dumping her body to ensure she was dead.
The defense also asked jurors to make their decision fairly and not to link the case with any anti-U.S. military feelings within Okinawa.
“The defendant on trial is one human being,” a defense attorney said.
The trial will continue Friday with prosecutors reading statements from Shimabukuro’s parents. A judge said the court will also give Gadson another chance to make a statement.
Defendants who show remorse and apologize for their crimes sometimes receive lighter sentences under the Japanese justice system.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Nov. 24, and a verdict is expected on Dec. 1.