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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — It wasn’t the cab fare that prompted a U.S. sailor to kill a taxi driver but rather a chorus of echoing voices in his head, the seaman’s lawyer said Friday.

Attorney Yasutoshi Murakami told Stars and Stripes on Friday he is requesting Kanagawa prefectural police to change the motive of “robbery-murder” to just “murder” in light of the defense attorney’s conversation with USS Cowpens Seaman Olatunbosun Ugbogu.

Ugbogu told Murakami that he did not intend to rob the taxi driver and had suffered from mental problems since high school, Murakami said.

“He told me that the voice he hears is like 20 people ordering him at the same time,” Murakami said.

The attorney said the 22-year-old sailor told him the voices ordered him to “stab somebody” on March 19, and because the Ugbogu couldn’t find anyone on the rainy Tokyo streets, he ended up in Masaaki Takahashi’s taxi.

Ugbogu, a Nigerian citizen, is accused of stabbing the 61-year-old taxi driver in the neck with a kitchen knife in Yokosuka. According to police reports, Takahashi bled to death in the taxi with his seat belt fastened. His taxi’s meter showed an unpaid fare of 19,560 yen (about $195).

The Navy released Ugbogu into Japanese custody Thursday after holding him more than a week on a desertion charge. Ugbogu had been missing from his command since March 1 and turned himself in to Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents March 22 in Tokyo.

But Ugbogu had plenty of money at the time of the stabbing, including 30,000 yen (about $300) and about $100 in cash, said Murakami.

A reasonable sailor — and a deserter — would know that running out on a taxi fare or committing a violent act would draw attention, especially in light of recent incidents of alleged crimes by servicemember in Okinawa, Murakami said.

“The motive of robbery is unreasonable,” Murakami said. “He could have paid the fee. But the voices said to ‘stab him,’ and he obeyed the voice.”

Ugbogu told him the voices had caused him to act violently and steal things in the past and that people close to him had witnessed this, Murakami said.

The maximum sentence for robbery-murder in Japan is death or life imprisonment at hard labor. The maximum penalty for murder is death or life imprisonment with five years or more at hard labor.

If a defendant is found guilty for reason of insanity, that can be a mitigating factor in the sentencing.

A Kanagawa prefectural police spokesman declined to comment on Ugbogu’s motive Friday and said he could not discuss the details of the ongoing investigation.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

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