Mom, ex-girlfriend testify in Ugbogu case
January 16, 2009
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Olatunbosun Ugbogu, his mother and his former girlfriend all took the stand this week as the U.S. Navy seaman’s robbery-homicide trial resumed in Yokohama District Court.
The 22-year-old sailor again appeared detached Wednesday as he answered questions from his defense attorney, Yasutoshi Murakami. He was not cross-examined by prosecutors but told the court he takes medication three times a day to stop hallucinations.
Ugbogu, a Nigerian citizen, repeated earlier statements that he fatally stabbed 61-year-old taxi driver Masaaki Takahashi last spring in an alley in Yokosuka’s Shioiri neighborhood but was ordered to do it by "overpowering voices."
"I’ve never said ‘no’ to the voices," he said, describing them as a mix of 20 voices speaking simultaneously that sound like an echo. "I’m afraid of what they could do to me."
On March 19, Ugbogu was in his then-girlfriend’s apartment, in Tokyo’s Roppongi district, when the voices told him to grab a kitchen knife, take all his money — about $100 and 30,000 yen — go outside and stab someone, he testified. He said he had no concept of the consequences and could not distinguish right from wrong when he fell under their influence.
"We want bloodshed," the "voices" purportedly told him.
There was no one on the street, he said, but the "voices" led him toward the Nagahara subway station. He hopped a train to Gotanda Station, then transferred to another line headed for Shinagawa Station.
In Shinagawa, Ugbogu said he got into the taxi driven by Takahashi, telling the driver to take him to Yokosuka.
Prosecutors argue he killed Takahashi to avoid paying a $195 cab fare. He’s also charged with illegal possession of a knife.
Ugbogu, formerly assigned to the USS Cowpens at Yokosuka Naval Base, was in deserter status from his command when the incident occurred. His credit card was found in the taxi.
Taro Muramatsu, a court-appointed psychiatrist, heard testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday. He’s expected to observe Ugbogu at the Yokohama Detention Center and present his findings at a later date.
‘Because he killed someone’
Gripping testimony came from Ugbogu’s mother, a minister flown in from New Jersey, and his ex-girlfriend. Neither was clearly identified.
On Wednesday, Ugbogu’s former girlfriend entered the courtroom behind a partition and the witness stand was enclosed from the gallery’s view. A day earlier, his 39-year-old mother gave her name before testifying, but it was inaudible and neither the court nor Murakami would confirm her identity.
Both women testified they never saw signs he was plagued by "voices."
"He was a calm and gentle person, and I wanted to be with him," his former girlfriend said Wednesday through a translator, adding that they lived together on two different occasions starting last February.
The Japanese woman said he introduced himself as "Kenny" when they met in November 2007. During their brief relationship, he was never violent and she also professed love for him, believing a long-term situation was possible, according to her testimony.
But she feels "nothing" for him today, she told the court.
When asked why by Murakami, she replied, "Because he killed someone. Because I was cheated. … We live in totally different worlds."
Three days before the killing, the woman said, she found Ugbogu’s military ID card and learned his actual identity and nationality. She had thought he was American.
When a prosecutor showed her photographs from the crime scene and the knife allegedly used to stab Takahashi, the woman could be heard sobbing.
‘I failed you as a mother’
Tuesday’s hearing marked the first time Ugbogu’s mother had seen him since he left the U.S. for Japan in June 2007. She said his appearance was shocking.
"He’s in such a deplorable state. There’s no sense of emotion on his face. He’s like a zombie," she testified.
She said she didn’t think her son’s condition was psychological and instead sought spiritual counseling and prayers to deal with his many adolescent behavioral issues.
"Because of my faith and spiritual upbringing, I never looked at it as a medical disease until this incident," she told the court. "Then I began to put the puzzles together. Now it’s making sense."
Seated about six feet from the witness stand, Ugbogu showed almost no emotion as she spoke, occasionally glancing around the courtroom. Turning toward him at one point, she made an apology.
"I failed you as a mother," she said. "I was narrow-minded. I did not look outside the window of my faith … and get the help you needed. I’m very sorry, and I love you."
She said Ugbogu grew up in Nigeria and lived with several different relatives. Because of the behavioral problems, he began changing schools frequently around the sixth grade, she added.
In the U.S., she said his attitude and strange mannerisms made it "uncomfortable" for the family to go out in public. Church was the only place they went together, she added.
She called Takahashi’s killing a "tragic loss" and said she wrote a letter of apology to his family.
"I just hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive me," she added. "If I’d just opened my eyes sooner, maybe it could have prevented this from happening. … I sympathize with them (and) feel their pain."
Wednesday’s hearing also included testimony from Seaman David Lesure, who worked with Ugbogu aboard the Cowpens and called him a "good, close friend."
Lesure said Ugbogu was an "outstanding person" and characterized him as a "hard worker who was very dependable."
The two also partied in Roppongi together two days after the killing, but there was nothing unusual about Ugbogu’s demeanor, Lesure testified.
Ugbogu’s next court date is Jan. 30.