A Japanese court on Friday found a U.S. military contractor guilty of murder and rape in the death of an Okinawa woman. He was sentenced to life in prison following his conviction.
Court officials of the Naha District Court said that the man identified as Kenneth Shinzato, a former Marine, is also found guilty of abandoning the victim’s body. The woman, then 20 years old, was found dead in the forest in May, three weeks after she disappeared while taking a walk.
Shinzato was accused of hitting the woman in the head with a club, with the intention of raping her and then stabbing her to death with a knife. Shinzato pleaded guilty to the charges of rape resulting in death and abandoning of the body but denied any murder intent on his part.
Kyoto News reported that Judge Toshihiro Shibata upheld the prosecutors’ demand for life imprisonment and stated that there was no room for leniency.
The case has sparked massive outrage on the southern Japanese island where the heavy U.S. military presence has long been a point of contention. Crimes linked to the American military have always been controversial in the area. The locals’ rage led to a bilateral pact limiting immunity from Japanese prosecution for civilian workers at the said American bases.
There are also protests from Okinawa on a highly-debated plan to relocate a Marine Corps air station in the crowded neighborhood of Futenma to a less-populated part of the island. The plan was developed after a military aircraft accident near the present base and the 1995 rape of a girl by three American servicemen also angered Okinawans. The plan has made little progress due to protests.
Those who oppose the bases want the air station completely removed from the island. Nearly half of about 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan are based in Okinawa.
The U.S. military says that the crime rate among its ranks in Japan is significantly lower than among the general public.
While the U.S. bases in Japan remains a source of tension, both countries have always maintained close ties and are considered solid allies. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, in fact, wants Japan to play a greater military role in the international stage. Abe also wants an even closer U.S.-Japan security military alliance in light of the aggression and nuclear ambitions and threats of North Korea.