Sailor gets life sentence in Japanese taxi driver's death
July 30, 2009
YOKOHAMA, Japan — U.S. Navy Seaman Olatunbosun Ugbogu will serve life in a Japanese prison with labor for murdering a taxi driver last year, a three-judge panel ruled Thursday in Yokohama District Court.
In finding him guilty, lead judge Masaaki Kawaguchi called Ugbogu’s insanity defense “groundless.” He ruled that Ugbogu was sane when he stabbed Masaaki Takahashi with a kitchen knife after a roughly $200 ride from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station to Yokosuka’s Shioiri neighborhood on March 19, 2008.
While Ugbogu maintained that voices in his head forced him to kill, Kawaguchi said the killing was part of a planned robbery that failed when Takahashi screamed in pain after the knife pierced his neck and severed a major artery.
“The crime was cold-hearted and cruel ... and committed to get money for socializing,” Kawaguchi said. “It was heinous and selfish.”
In addition to murder, Ugbogu was found guilty of robbery for not paying the taxi fare and of violating the arms control law.
Ugbogu, who wore a T-shirt and ripped jeans to the sentencing, reacted to the verdict with the same lack of emotion that has generally characterized him since the trial began in December.
Ugbogu, who has been taking psychiatric medication regularly while being held in jail, did not have the chance to speak Thursday.
A court-appointed psychiatric expert said in April that Ugbogu may have convinced himself that he hears voices in his head following the stabbing in order to cope with the trauma. But he said Ugbogu acted too methodically to have been schizophrenic at the time of the killing.
Judges said Thursday that they accepted the psychiatric expert’s finding.
“The verdict rejected all the claims made by the defendant and defense counsel. It is truly regrettable,” defense attorney Yasutoshi Murakami said following court Thursday.
Murakami disputed the psychiatrist’s findings but wasn’t allowed to present his own psychiatric witness during the trial.
Murakami said he believed that if a jury had reviewed the situation, they would have scrutinized Ugbogu’s erratic behavior and possibly come to a different conclusion about his sanity. Jury trials were introduced to the Japanese justice system for the first time in May. The start of Ugbogu’s trial preceded that change and his case was heard by the panel of judges.
The judges acknowledged that Ugbogu apologized for his actions, but they later said that the apology was superficial.
“We don’t believe the defendant has seriously reflected on what he did,” Kawaguchi said.
“This case has had very serious consequences, not only to the Yokosuka base, but to the Japanese people as a whole,” Kawaguchi later added.
Ugbogu has 14 days to appeal the decision.
Murakami said he would discuss appeals with his client Friday, but that Ugbogu had expressed earlier his willingness to accept the outcome and move on with his life.
Without an appeal, Ugbogu would be eligible for parole in about 25 to 30 years, Murakami said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.