Kenneth Franklin Shinzato pled guilty before the Naha District Court to the sex crime, but rejected the murder charge claiming he had no intention to kill the victim, Rina Shimabukuro. According to the prosecution, Shinzato attacked Shimabukuro near her home in Uruma, in central Okinawa, on the night of April 28, 2016. He clubbed her with a metal bar, took her to a grass field, strangled and repeatedly stabbed her before raping her, The Asahi Shimbun reported. Shinzato’s defense claimed he intended to knock his victim out and rape her in a hotel room, but panicked when he couldn’t render Shimabukuro fully unconscious.
The prosecution insisted the killing of the woman was intentional. They said when Shinzato left his home in Yonabaru in a car earlier that day he took with him the knife used in the assault and a large suitcase full of dirt. His intention, they argued, was to squeeze his victim into the suitcase and abandon the body in a shallow grave in the forest.
Shinzato, whose original family name Gadson was changed to that of his Japanese wife, served in the US Marines between 2009 and 2014. Later he was working at the Kadena Air Base as a civilian contractor for a cable and internet provider. He became a person of interest in the police investigation of Shimabukuro’s disappearance after his car was spotted in security footage from the area where the crime happened. The victim’s DNA was found in the car, making him a prime suspect. The body was found on May 19, as police was searching for it based on Shinzato’s testimony.
On Friday, lay Judge Toshihiro Shibata found Shinzato guilty of both rape and murder and sentenced him to life in prison – the punishment requested by the prosecution, Kyodo News reported.
The rape and death of Shimabukuro sparked outrage in Japan and particularly in Okinawa, where public sentiment is strong against the presence of American troops. Public protests against such crimes marred the visit of then-US President Barack Obama in May 2016. A month later Okinawa saw one of the biggest anti-American demonstrations in two decades, with at least 50,000 people attending.
The case is one of a number involving US service members or base employees targeting Japanese civilians, which have happened over the decades.