Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a former US Marine working at the US Air Force’s Kadena Air Base on the southern Japanese island, was charged in April 2016 with the murder of Rina Shimabukuro
Japanese prosecutors charged Shinzato, 33, then a US military contractor at the US base in Okinawa with the murder and rape of the 20-year-old woman in a high-profile case that has renewed anti-American base sentiment on the southern Japanese island.
Prosecutors told the Okinawa District Court that Shinzato choked Shimabukuro and stabbed her in the neck during an attempted sexual assault on a road.
Shinzato admitted in court raping and assaulting Shimabukuro, as well as abandoning her body, but said he did not intend to kill her, according to Japan Today.
The case has intensified longstanding opposition to the US military presence on Okinawa a strategic island that reluctantly hosts nearly 75 percent of land allotted for American bases in Japan.
Former marine, Kenneth Shinzato [right], admits assaulting Rina Shimabukuro, [left]. He claims her death was unintentional
According to the indictment, Shinzato assaulted the woman for the purpose of raping her about 10 p.m. April 28, 2016.
Shinzato who was working at an internet company within the premises of the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa is accused of hitting the victim on the head with a bar. He grabbed her in a choke hold and stabbed her in the neck with a knife to prevent her from resisting and she died as a result. Her skeletal remains were found on May 19 of that year in a wooded area in the village of Onna, north of Uruma.
Shinzato began working as a military contractor after serving as a Marine from 2007 to 2014, according to his lawyers and the US Defense Department. He was married and had a family in Okinawa at the time of the incident but got divorced afterward.
During the hearing, Shinzato said he planned to let the woman go after raping her, denying any murderous intent.
“He did not stab her during the assault. He wrung her neck but did not try to kill her and there is a possibility that the woman died as a result of falling and hitting her head on the ground,” his defense attorney said.
The Naha District Court is seen in session during the first hearing for US base worker, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, Nov 16
Defense attorneys argued that their client’s crime was a non-premeditated accident – Shinzato said he planned to let his victim go after raping her, denying any murderous intent.
An interpreter is being used at the trial as Shinzato barely speaks Japanese.
However, he refused to answer any questions from both his defense counsel and the prosecutors during the hearing in the afternoon, exercising his right to remain silent.
His defense counsel said, “He [Shinzato], did not stab her [Shimabukuro], during the assault. He wrung her neck but did not try to kill her and there is a possibility that the woman died as a result of falling and hitting her head on the ground.”
Prosecutors maintained Shinzato had every intent of killing Shimabukuro, referring to multiple stabbing of the victim’s neck.
It was a premeditated crime prosecutors said, because the defendant prepared a suitcase to transport the body and changed his clothes at a hotel after the incident.
Shinzato had requested his trial be held outside Okinawa, saying it was unlikely a fair trial could be held there amid the strong anti-US base sentiment. The Supreme Court rejected his request.
The court ruling is scheduled for Dec. 1.