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Ex-US Marine at trial denies intent to kill woman found dead in Okinawa last year

Flowers are laid at the site where a woman's body was found in May 2016 in the Okinawa Prefecture village of Onna in this photo taken on Nov. 16, 2017. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- A former U.S. Marine, who is being tried for murder and other charges relating to the death of a 20-year-old Japanese woman in April of last year when he was a civilian U.S. military employee, said at the first hearing of his trial on Nov. 16 that he had had no intention of killing her, and did not commit murder.

Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 33, who is being tried in a lay judge trial at the Naha District Court, claimed he was innocent of the murder charge against the late woman from the prefectural city of Uruma, but admitted to committing rape resulting in death and abandonment of a corpse.

All eyes are now on how a lay judge trial involving a U.S. military-linked defendant in Okinawa Prefecture will pan out. Okinawa prefectural residents have long shouldered a massive percentage of Japan's military burden, and this case is far from being the first of its kind.

Asked about the facts surrounding his indictment, Shinzato stated that he had intended to knock the woman unconscious, take her to a hotel, sexually assault her, and later let her go, but because things did not go as he'd plotted, he panicked and was unable to follow through with his plan.

Shinzato's attorneys admitted that he hit the woman with a rod and choked her, but also said, "These two acts were not carried out with the intention to kill, meaning the murder charge does not hold." They denied that their client stabbed the woman with a knife when he assaulted her.

According to the opening statement made by prosecutors, Shinzato, having plotted to sexually assault a woman, had driven around Uruma with a rod, a knife, and a suitcase, searching for a target. He found the then 20-year-old woman, who was taking a walk by herself, attacked her from behind where there was little foot or vehicular traffic, and killed her in a grassy area.

Out of fear of being discovered, prosecutors claimed, Shinzato placed the body in the suitcase that he'd brought with him and put it in his car, later dumping the victim's body in a wooded area in the village of Onna and putting dirt on top of it. Subsequently, prosecutors continued, Shinzato disposed of the rod, the victim's cell phone and other items in a nearby river, and the suitcase on the grounds of the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Hansen in the prefectural town of Kin. Prosecutors called Shinzato's actions "a phantom-killer crime targeting a victim who was at no fault of her own."

According to the indictment papers, at around 10 p.m. on April 28, 2016, Shinzato hit the victim on the head with a rod and choked her, then stabbed her around the neck several times and tried to sexually assault her. However, unable to follow through with his plan, Shinzato killed the woman. The papers, furthermore, state that Shinzato abandoned the body in a wooded area in Onna village.

In January of this year, the Japanese and U.S. governments signed a supplementary agreement to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would clarify the scope of civilian U.S. military base workers over whom the U.S. would have priority jurisdiction. However, the two parties have not ventured into the possibility of making fundamental changes to SOFA that the Okinawa Prefectural Government seeks.

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