Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kazuyoshi Miura: 1981 Old Case Headed back to Los Angeles

Do any of you remember this old case? I do. At the time, I was still working in the banking industry in downtown Los Angeles when it happened, and I've been following the latest developments since news of Miura's rearrest in Saipan broke.

As the story goes, on November 18th, 1981, Japanese businessman and clothing importer Kazuyoshi Miura and his wife, Kazumi, were sightseeing and taking photographs in downtown Los Angeles when supposedly two men attacked and robbed them on Fremont Avenue, just blocks from the Downtown Music Center and nine blocks from what is now known as Parker Center, LAPD headquarters. Around noon that day, Miura said that two men in a green car demanded money. When Miura didn't immediately hand over his cash, Kazumi was shot in the head and Kazuyoshi in the left leg and the robbers fled with about $1,200. Kazumi was left in a coma, and Miura became the example for every Japanese tourist's worst nightmare of what might befall them when visiting a big crime ridden US city.

Miura left the US while his wife remained in the hospital. Kazumi was eventually flown back to Japan on a US military craft and died there the following year. Miura became a "hero" in Japan. He thrust himself into the media spotlight speaking out about the violence in American cities. A few years later, sensational stories came out in the Japanese press that seriously challenged Miura's image. Allegations were made that Miura hired someone to kill his wife for the insurance money, approximately $650,000 at the time (which would translate into $1 million in todays market). Miura had taken three life insurance polices out on Kazumi, the last one on the day before the shooting. The sensational series in the Bunshun magazine called "Los Angeles Suspicions" suggested that Miura didn't just profit from the death of his wife in LA, but he also profited off the death of a mistress, Chizuko Shiraishi, via the $13,000 taken from her bank account when she disappeared. Found on a Los Angeles hillside, her body languished in the LA County morgue since 1979 until she was identified in 1984. Although her murder remains unsolved, Miura was named the chief suspect by then DA Ira Reiner in 1986.

Miura was arrested in Japan on September 11, 1985 with television cameras rolling just like they were when he got married to his next wife, Yoshi, that summer. His new wife loved the media spotlight too. She was included in a list of the ten most influential women of 1985 by one popular daytime show. Miura's arrest in Japan was the result of a new interpretation of Japanese law that allows the government to charge nationals arrested for crimes in other countries. What was also new for Japan was the fact that this was the first case where an arrest was initiated by accusations of a murder conspiracy in the local press. There was a lot of criticism in Japan that the media attention and coverage of Miura that went on 24/7 stepped outside the ethics of professional journalism and was illegal.

On October 3rd, 1985, Miura and an accomplice, Michiko Yazawa, a waitress and pornographic film star in Japan, were both charged with a failed murder attempt of Kazumi, in the New Otani Hotel in August, 1981, three months before Kazumi was shot in downtown Los Angeles.

In early January 1986, Yazawa was convicted of the attempted murder, confessing to hitting Kazumi with a hammer like object. She testified that Miura provided the weapon, promised to marry her and split the money from the insurance settlement. Miura's trial followed Yazawa's and in August 1987, Miura was also convicted for the August, 1981 attempted murder plot. He was sentenced to six years in prison, with the judge calling the crime "premeditated" and "inhumane."

In May of 1988, Miura was finally charged in Los Angeles County with conspiracy and murder in the 1981 November 11th shooting of his wife. At the time, District Attorney Ira Reiner was trying to extradite Miura from Japan. However, Japan was also interested in charging Miura for his wife's fatal shooting and their case went forward. LAPD detectives and prosecutors worked with Japan to develop their case. Miura's US agent (the type of agent is not clarified in the story) Yoshikuni Matsumoto was also charged as an accomplice in the shooting, but was exonerated at his trial. He was convicted of smuggling into Japan a rifle and 100 pounds of ammunition and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. For Miura's trial, Japanese detectives and prosecutors returned to Los Angeles to meticulously recreate the scene of the crime.

In late March 1994, Miura was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. In 1998, Japan's high court overturned the verdict, citing I believe, the fact that an accomplice in the shooting was exonerated and therefore there could not have been a conspiracy since the assailant was never identified.

From then on, in Japan, Miura was like a stalked celebrity with every move he made reported on in the local news, much like Britney Spears is today. However, Miura didn't try to hide from the attention like most California celebrities. In fact he thrived on any attention he could generate, making appearances on TV shows, wrote two books and even participated in a movie about the event.

For the next ten years, Miura became the poster boy for those wrongly convicted of crimes. He promoted himself as a human rights advocate, as well as selling his books, articles and movie on at least one web site. But there was one detective who could not let the case go. Retired LAPD Lt. Jimmy Sadoka stayed in contact with the Japanese authorities who prosecuted Miura, trying to keep tabs on his movements over the years.

In 2004, California law was changed and individuals who were charged overseas no longer had the double jeopardy protection. This opened the door for Miura to be put on trial for Kizumi's murder in the US.

It was Miura's own blog writings (that police had been monitoring for the last several years) of his travel plans to Saipan which resulted in his rearrest in the US territory island on February 22nd. US authorities in Saipan arrested Miura on that still outstanding 1988 LA County warrant. With this arrest, the Japanese press is again in a media frenzy for any news on Miura. Dozens of reporters have flooded Saipan and Los Angeles, even arranging a press conference in Redondo Beach.

The LA Times reports:
Retired LAPD Lt. Jimmy Sakoda stepped before no less than 11 TV cameras and dozens of reporters Saturday to speak about a Los Angeles homicide case he has followed for more than 25 years.

Dressed in a dapper dark suit and gray tie, Sakoda offered no new details about the convoluted case involving Kazuyoshi Miura, a Japanese businessman who allegedly conspired to kill his wife on a downtown Los Angeles street in 1981. More than a decade after being acquitted of the crime in Japan, Miura was arrested Feb. 22 by U.S. authorities in Saipan acting on a warrant issued years ago by Los Angeles police and the district attorney's office on charges of murder and conspiracy.

But to the roomful of mostly Japanese journalists -- who not only attended but also arranged the Redondo Beach news conference -- Sakoda's appearance was news enough. It gave them one more peg for one more story to feed the voracious appetite in Japan for news, any news, about a case considered much bigger than O.J. Simpson's.

Like Simpson, Miura has persistently proclaimed his innocence.
I stumbled upon a blog by Cassandra Nelson, who lives in Saipan with her husband Eric, an attorney. She gave me permission to use some photographs she took of the Japanese press waiting to get their first glimpse of Miura at his court appearance there. Her husband Eric, is on the far left in the first photo.

The next photo is a shot of inside the courthouse.

The 40+ page extradition paperwork signed by California Govenor Schwarzenegger has been received by the CNMI Superior Court in Saipan, and Marianas islands governor Benigno Fitial has signed the order to send Miura back to the US. Miura is fighting the extradition, and the Saipan Tribune is reporting that it may take months for him to be transferred back to the US and into the custody of Los Angeles County Sheriffs.

Miura has three attorneys in Saipan who are working hard to fight the extradition and within the past few days Miura (or his attorneys) also hired local celebrity attorney Mark Geragos who's clients have included Winona Ryder and Michael Jackson. Geragos unsuccessfully defended Scott Peterson for the murder of his wife, Laci.

I remember during the last days of verdict watch in the Phil Spector trial, Geragos was briefly in Judge Larry Paul Fidler's courtroom. Fidler jokingly quipped to Geragos, something to the effect of, You must have heard there were cameras in here...

Geragos has already filed a motion to quash the warrant in Saipan. The Associated Press has reported that:
Los Angeles County district attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said prosecutors have told Geragos that the Los Angeles court does not have jurisdiction to hear his motion. " We believe Mr. Miura must be returned to Los Angeles before the court here has any jurisdiction to hear matters in this case," Gibbons said.

The Saipan court has jurisdiction and so Geragos' motion is premature, she said.

Geragos' motion sought a hearing on March 24.
I imagine this is going to be an interesting case, since there are so many different plot turns and the international medial frenzy that can only get worse. I'll try to expand more on the story, once I've put up two other stories I'm working on.

LA Times archives were utilized for most of this report.


Anakerie said...

I remember this case as well, Sprocket. My family and I had just moved to Northern California that year. Off and on over the years I have read a few articles that were published about this guy. His whole story never made a lot of sense to me, especially the parts about how Japanese tourists weren't safe in America. I'd lost track of the story a long while back. Too many twists and turns in it. Now that Geragos is involved, I imagine the American media will be picking up on the story again since he loves publicity so much. Thank you for the reminder of a very strange case.. And I'll be watching your blog for more info. Keep up the good work, Sprocket! I miss posting with you on the old CTV boards! lol