• Kyodo

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A 53-year-old Japanese man was sentenced to two life prison terms without the possibility of parole by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Thursday for murdering his wife and daughter more than three years ago.

Dressed in a blue jail suit, Kazumi Taga listened calmly as Judge Larry Fidler read the sentence and ordered him to make restitution.

Last month, Taga pleaded guilty to killing his wife, Yuriko, 38, and daughter, Megumi, 4, whose bodies were found bound together and weighed down by a diving belt in Los Angeles harbor in September 2000.

As a part of the plea bargain, Taga admitted committing the crimes and was sentenced to life, instead of having to face a possible death sentence, which prosecutors said they would pursue if the case went to trial.

In the plea deal, charges that he had murdered his wife for financial gain and had tried to poison her on two occasions were dropped.

“Regarding this disposition, he agreed with it 100 percent,” said Taga’s defense attorney, Christopher Apostal. “It was something we discussed with him at length many times. He has accepted what has happened and he has reconciled himself with it. So I believe he is at peace with the situation.”

Although the cause of death could not be determined, detectives believe Taga strangled the pair after picking them up from the airport following their visit to Japan.

In a preliminary hearing, detectives alleged that Taga had twice laced his wife’s food with ricin, a poisonous protein, to kill her so he could carry on a relationship with another Japanese woman he had met over the Internet.

Taga has been jailed without bail since Oct 2, 2000, at a Los Angeles County facility, but is expected to move to a state prison in a few weeks.

While his defense team had evidence to present if the case had gone to trial, there was a possibility the jury would sentence Taga to death.

“Based on the circumstances, we felt that there was a very high risk that a jury might give the death penalty,” Apostal said. “Because we believe his life has value and we have come to know him over the last three years, we are happy to be able to save his life.”

Taga must repay the victims’ relatives for the funeral costs, which totaled $3,160.13, and will have to pay $210.00 for each murder charge.

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