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Murder, rape charges recommended in Okinawa woman's death

Kenneth Franklin Gadson, a U.S. military contractor at Kadena Air Base, Japan, was formally charged with illegally disposing of a body at the Naha Public Prosecutor's Office in the death of 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro, Thursday, June 9, 2016, in Naha, Japan. Police have recommended a murder charge.

CHIYOMI SUMIDA/STARS AND STRIPES

By CHIYOMI SUMIDA AND DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 9, 2016

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Police on Thursday recommended a murder charge for a U.S. base contractor who they say went cruising in his car for a total stranger to attack and killed a 20-year-old Okinawa woman making her nightly walk.

Kenneth Franklin Gadson, a former Marine who works at Kadena Air Base, has been held since May 19 on suspicion of illegally disposing of Rina Shimabukuro’s body. Prosecutors on Thursday made that charge official, and police recommended additional charges of murder and rape resulting in death.

The moves appear to be aimed at keeping Gadson in custody for another 20 days, in line with Japanese legal procedures, while they continue to investigate the case that has inflamed anti-U.S. military sentiment on Okinawa, led to tightened alcohol and liberty restrictions for U.S. troops and tainted President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Japan.

Police told a news conference that Gadson, armed with a stick and a knife, struck the victim “with murderous intent” on the head from behind just before midnight on April 29, pulled her into bushes, then strangled and stabbed her while attempting to rape her. She died before he could finish the sexual assault, the report says.

Kenryo Tomari, chief of the police Crime Investigations department, called the attack “premeditated.”

Police earlier said they brought in Gadson for questioning after spotting his red SUV on surveillance video from the area where Shimakubura vanished, and he provided information that led them to her decomposed body in a wooded area. She had been missing about a month.

An autopsy that was performed on Shimabukuro’s body was inconclusive on cause of death. She was identified with dental records.

Tomari said investigators used GPS coordinates from Shimakubura’s cellphone of her last known location to recover a stick that Gadson described during initial questioning but are still looking for her phone and Gadson’s knife.

He said Gadson, who goes by his wife’s family name Shinzato, had plotted to attack a woman who was a total stranger and happened to spot the victim walking alone.

Defense attorney Toshimitsu Takaesu has said Gadson admitted he strangled the woman but made the statement to police while still dazed from a suicide attempt with sleeping pills.

The incident, along with other crimes in recent weeks involving Americans with ties to the U.S. military, have strained U.S.-Japan relations, particularly on Okinawa, where half of U.S. troops in Japan are based, and fueled anti-base protests. A large demonstration is scheduled for June 19.

Obama found himself dealing with the backlash during his visit to Japan in late May for the G-7 economic summit.

The result has been tighter liberty restrictions in Japan, where servicemembers already were under a curfew following the rape of an Okinawa woman by two visiting U.S. sailors in late 2012. The Navy imposed a ban Monday on alcohol and nonessential off-base travel for sailors.

The anti-U.S. military movement on Okinawa already had been energized by the election of Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who ran on an anti-base platform. His ruling coalition also made gains in last Sunday’s prefectural elections amid speculation that the slaying and other military misbehavior contributed to the results.

Seaman Apprentice Justin Castellanos pleaded guilty May 27 to raping an intoxicated Japanese woman at a Naha hotel in March, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia, 21, assigned to Kadena, was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after causing two vehicle accidents and injuring two passengers by driving the wrong way on an Okinawa highway last Saturday night.

A monthlong period of unity and mourning was announced on May 28 by Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force and the Okinawa area coordinator. He also moved up the curfew by an hour to midnight and banned off-base alcohol consumption. The new Navy restrictions were triggered by Mejia’s arrest. She remains in Japanese custody.

Onaga took office in 2014 with a pledge to block construction of a proposed military runway in Henoko, near Camp Schwab.

The building of that runway, the accompanying closure of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and the move of some Marines to Guam were originally proposed in 2004 during the Bush administration but have been repeatedly postponed.

Okinawa lawmakers passed a non-binding protest resolution a week ago calling for the complete withdrawal of Marines from Okinawa.

sumida.chiyomi@stripes.com

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

Kenneth Franklin Gadson, who works on Kadena Air Base, Japan, and goes by his Japanese wife's family name of Shinzato, was arrested Thursday, May 19, 2016, and charged with the illegal disposal of a body in connection with the April 28 disappearance of Rina Shimabukuro, 20.
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