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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Japanese authorities Saturday took custody of a USS Kitty Hawk sailor suspected in the killing of a 56-year old Yokosuka woman last week.

Seaman William Oliver Reese, shrouded under a blanket, was escorted under Navy guard to the Yokosuka police station after Kanagawa Prefectural police obtained an arrest warrant from Yokohama District Court.

Reese was arrested on suspicion of death through robbery in connection with the fatal beating Tuesday morning of Yoshie Sato, a Yokosuka city woman.

The Navy announced Thursday it was holding a 21-year-old Kitty Hawk sailor at Yokosuka Naval Base as a “possible suspect” in the homicide.

Reese’s transfer to Japanese custody was expedited under the provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the 1995 and 2004 Joint Committee Agreements on Criminal Jurisdiction Procedures.

Transferring custody was “absolutely the right thing to do,” Rear Adm. James Kelly, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan (CNFJ), said in a written statement Saturday.

“… It is symbolic of the outstanding relationship that exists between our two governments, the close cooperation that has been the hallmark of this ongoing investigation, and the relevance of the SOFA.”

Reese, attached to the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier in 2004, allegedly killed Sato by “punching and kicking her face and stomach in an attempt to rob her,” according to the arrest warrant. He allegedly stole about 15,000 yen (about $131) in cash.

Sato was found about 7 a.m. Tuesday bleeding on the first floor of a building near Yokosuka Chuo train station. She had been on her way to work in Yokohama, police said. Sato died soon after in a local hospital from blood loss resulting from liver and kidney rupture.

While several news sources reported that there were two assailants, CNFJ officials maintain that only Reese was in custody. They declined to comment on Japanese media reports that Reese had confessed.

“At this stage of the investigation, it appears that there are no other suspects,” said CNFJ spokesman Cmdr. John Wallach. “But we’re continuing to investigate.”

Kelly said the Navy will “see the matter through to its rightful conclusion” and pledged “complete support and cooperation with all Japanese authorities.”

“We owe our community nothing less,” he said.

Through the weekend, Navy personnel throughout Japan observed a mandated “period of reflection” that began Thursday. A midnight to 5 a.m. curfew was set in the Yokosuka and Atsugi area for all Navy and tenant commands.

“I’m sure the Yokosuka community — like our base community — is shocked and outraged by what happened,” Wallach said.

SOFA allows custody transfer

Saturday’s handover of homicide suspect Seaman William Oliver Reese from U.S. Navy to Japanese custody was a pre-indictment done under the framework of the Status of Forces Agreement and the 1995 and 2004 Joint Committee Agreements on Criminal Jurisdiction Procedures. It allows for U.S. servicemembers suspected of crimes in Japan to be transferred to local custody before they are formally indicted in Japanese courts.

In 1995, the two governments first agreed to consider the early transfer of servicemembers accused of such “heinous” crimes as rape and murder. It was triggered in the aftermath of the rape of an Okinawa schoolgirl earlier that year by two sailors and a Marine. The policy was broadened in 2004 to include other crimes.

In Reese’s case, Japan’s National Police Agency, which oversees prefectural police departments, made the request through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday. A U.S.-Japan Joint Committee meeting was then held and a request was made to the Navy, which complied, according to a ministry official.

The Japanese government has requested the handing over of U.S. military suspects five times since the procedure was initially established in 1995, with the first in 1996. That case involved an attempted homicide that occurred during a robbery in Sasebo.

Suspects have since been handed over to Japanese authorities in 2001 and 2003, both for sexual assaults on Okinawa.

Only one request has been denied, which occurred in 2002 and involved an attempted rape on Okinawa.

Saturday’s handover of Reese marks the fifth and latest request.

— Allison Batdorff and Hana Kusumoto

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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