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Change of Venue Denied for Okinawa Slaying Suspect

In this Sept. 23, 2001 photo, flags of U.S. and Japan flutter in U.S. Kadena Air Base on the southern island of Okinawa in Japan.  (Kyodo News via AP)
In this Sept. 23, 2001 photo, flags of U.S. and Japan flutter in U.S. Kadena Air Base on the southern island of Okinawa in Japan. (Kyodo News via AP)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan’s highest court has rejected a U.S. base worker’s request to move his trial on murder and rape charges from Okinawa to Tokyo. Kenneth Franklin Gadson, 32, submitted the change-of-venue request last month, arguing he could not get a fair trial under the lay judge system – in which three professional judges and six lay judges hear a case – because of strong anti-military sentiments on the tiny island prefecture. Gadson’s attorney, Toshimitsu Takaesu, said extensive media coverage had influenced public opinion. The Aug. 1 decision by the Second Petty Bench of the Supreme Court says a fair trial based on laws and evidence is fully guaranteed under the lay judge system, and that there is no reason to fear that impartiality cannot be maintained. The court also said lay judges are appointed through a procedure that assures fairness and neutrality. A supporting opinion by Supreme Court Judge Katsumi Chiba said lay judges will pursue their duties in a fair manner based on laws and evidence. Gadson, a former Marine who worked as a civilian at Kadena Air Base and goes by his Japanese wife’s family name of Shinzato, confessed to killing 20-year-old office worker Rina Shimabukuro, though his attorney said he was under the influence of narcotics following a suicide attempt. In a statement to Stars and Stripes, Gadson did not deny killing Shimabukuro but said the police account of the incident isn’t correct. “I did not have the intention of killing the victim,” Gadson wrote. “Furthermore, I did not rape her. I will state the details of the case in court.” Takaesu also said his client has a history of mental problems and was treated for depression as a teenager. He said he would provide the court with Gadson’s psychiatric evolution after examining medical records from Gadson’s hometown of New York City.

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