NAHA – A former civilian worker at a U.S. base accused of raping and killing a 20-year-old woman in Okinawa, in April last year, denied intent to murder at the opening of his lay judge trial.
Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 33, did admit, however, to charges of rape resulting in death and abandoning the victim’s body, at the Naha District Court on Thursday.
The murder case has sparked public anger and strengthened negative sentiment against U.S. bases in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan and has seen a spate of crimes committed by American troops or military-linked personnel.
According to the indictment, Shinzato assaulted the woman for the purpose of raping her on a road in Uruma in central Okinawa at around 10 p.m. on April 28 last year. After hitting her on the head with a bar, he stabbed her in the neck with a knife so she would not resist, which resulted in her murder.
He was working as a civilian base worker at the time of the incident after serving as a U.S. Marine.
At the hearing prosecutors claimed Shinzato had murderous intent, referring to the multiple stabbing of the victim’s neck. They also said the crime was premeditated, given that he had prepared a suitcase to transport the body.
Under the lay judge system, local citizens will hear the case alongside professional judges. A ruling will be handed down on Dec. 1.
The district court, presided over by Judge Toshihiro Shibata, is expected to hear from the accused on Friday. The victim’s father is also expected to give his statement during the trial.
In Okinawa a total of 576 heinous crimes — including murders, robberies and rapes — were committed by U.S. military-related personnel between May 1972 and last December, according to data from the prefectural government and local police. The tally measures crimes committed after the prefecture reverted to Japanese control following postwar U.S. occupation.
Following the gang rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen in 1995, a massive rally — which organizers estimated was attended by 85,000 — was held to call for the removal of the U.S. military base from Okinawa.
A series of accidents involving U.S. military aircraft have further fueled negative sentiment toward the U.S. base on the island, with such incidents totaling 709 during the same period.