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Okinawa base worker to admit rape, but not intentional murder

A former U.S. base worker will admit to a charge of rape leading to the death of a Japanese woman last year, a new development in the case that rocked the tiny island prefecture and led to a surge in anti-American sentiment.

Kenneth Franklin Gadson, a former Marine who worked as a civilian at a Kadena Air Base cable and internet company, said through his attorneys that he killed Rina Shimabukuro, 20, while attempting to rape her, according to Naha District Court documents filed Friday.

“We do not dispute the charge of rape resulting in death,” the documents said, adding that Gadson admits to striking Shimabukuro on the head from behind while attempting to rape her. “As a result, the victim died … The defendant had no murderous intent, therefore we dispute the charge of murder.”

Gadson’s first pretrial conference is scheduled for March 10. The trial is expected to begin sometime around June.

The admission’s timing surprised some legal scholars, since prosecutors haven’t yet presented evidence in court. It was most likely an attempt at a lesser sentence by showing remorse, which is considered very important in the Japanese justice system.

“Generally speaking, if you do not admit anything while there is obvious evidence, the attitude is seen as atrocious, with no remorse; thereby, the sentence tends to be longer,” said Tetsumi Takara, a law professor at the University of the Ryukyus.

Takara said the death penalty cannot be discounted in this case, though it is rarely handed down in cases involving a single death.

“There is a possibility that he chose this route for a lesser sentence by giving a good impression to [the civilian] judges (similar to an American jury),” Takara said. “Having said that, it is still strange to admit the charge before trial.”

Gadson was charged with murder and rape resulting in death by Japanese prosecutors two months after Shimabukuro disappeared on April 28. He was also charged with the illegal disposal of a body.

Following interrogation, he took police to the wooded area where her remains were found. He confessed to the crime, police said, but his lawyers argued he was questioned while under the influence of sleeping pills after a suicide attempt.

Anti-US base activists push for Okinawa protester’s release

Activists opposing the US military presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa are protesting the ongoing detention of one anti-US base activist over a series of minor offenses.

Hiroji Yamashiro, 64, had been leading protests against the construction of a new US marine corps installation, before he was arrested on October 17 last year. The island already boasts 32 such facilities.

Yamashiro and his supporters have claimed he is being detained for politically-motivated reasons and that the Japanese government is trying to silence him.

He is being held on suspicion of cutting a wire fence around a Marine Corps helipad construction site, interfering with a public officer’s duties, causing bodily harm, and of obstructing the construction of a Marine Corps air station.

US forces have been stationed on Okinawa since the end of WW2, and the base has long been a contentious issue in Japan. This latest series of protests are against the construction of new bases in Henoko and Takae, which locals say will damage the ecosystem.

Responding to a series of questions put to him by The Washington Post, Yamashiro wrote from his prison cell: “I can’t help but think this smells like a political judgment, not a judicial one, This is an unjust and illegal detention, and I don’t think it should be allowed to happen. It’s probably related to the current situation of the base issue in Okinawa.”

Under Japanese law, suspects can be held for a period of 23 days before they must be charged or released. Yamashiro has been held for three times that period and has also reportedly been prevented from seeing his family throughout his detention.

Yamashiro’s supporters have submitted a petition ( https://goo.gl/1oI8Uu ) calling for his release to Naha district court. It has reportedly been signed by 40,000 people and there have been a number of protests outside the building.

A number of public figures including documentary writer Satoshi Kamata, author Keiko Ochiai, and commentator Makoto Sataka have also called for his release.

The activist remains defiant, writing to The Washington Post: “I will not get discouraged, I will survive through this and work hard to speak for angry Okinawan people.”

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