Friday, September 26, 2008

Kazuyoshi Miura: Judge Rules Conspiracy Charge Can Go Forward

Today Judge Van Sicklen finally ruled on the defense's motion to quash the 1988 arrest warrant of Kazuyoshi Miura for first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The murder of Miura's wife, Kazumi, occurred on a busy side street in downtown Los Angeles over twenty-five years ago. Miura was shot in the leg and Kazumi was shot in the head. She died a year later.

Van Sicklen granted the motion to quash on the first degree murder charge on double jeopardy grounds, but denied the motion on the conspiracy charge. In his ruling, Van Sicklen wrote, “Although the murder charge is barred by double jeopardy, the State may proceed on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder because there is no evidence that Miura was previously acquitted or convicted of the same offense in Japan."

The prosecution on the conspiracy charge will go forward. All that needs to happen now is to get Miura to the US.

It's taken quite a bit of time to get to a resolution on this matter. Back in February of this year, Miura traveled from his native Japan to Siapan where he was arrested on that old, 1988 outstanding warrant. Ever since, the Los Angeles DA's office has been trying to get him extradited to Los Angeles, and high profile attorney Mark Geragos has been trying to squash the arrest warrant. Authorities were alerted to Miura's travel plans to the US territory because they had been monitoring Miura's Internet blog, where he talked about taking the trip. Note to the criminally stupid: If there's still a murder warrant out on you in another country, it's probably not a good idea to detail your travel plans on your publicly viewed Internet blog.

During the July hearing, Judge Van Sicklen stated that before it could be determined if the alleged crimes were the same crimes that Miura was convicted of in Japan, he would need to see translations of the Japanese court rulings. From what I've overheard in court, these translations run over five hundred pages and were probably very costly. During this hearing, Van Sicklen also ordered a live video feed hookup with Saipan, so that Miura could "appear" at the next hearing.

August 15th
The live video connection was accomplished with a translator in Saipan for Mr. Miura and a translator in the court to record anything he might say.

Alan Jackson, Ric Ocampo and Phyllis Asayama were arguing for the people. Mark Geragos and his associate, Nareg Gourjian, are representing Miura in Los Angeles. Miura also has three high profile attorneys in Saipan, as well as legal representation in Japan. A huge video screen was set up in the court. Once Miura's face appeared on the screen and sound checks were made, court was called into session. On the record, Miura formally waived his right to appear.

The prosecution presented Mark D. West, a law professor at the University of Michigan. He founded the Japanese Law Studies, Law Program in 1998 at the university. After direct exam and cross, Professor West was accepted as a legal expert in Japanese law. Professor West is fluent in written and spoken Japanese, has been invited to teach at many schools in Japan, and read the Japan court rulings in their original Japanese.

The main issue of disagreement between the parties is the conspiracy issue and the expo facto issue. The question that needs to be answered by the court: Is our (Californial Criminal Code) conspiracy statute the same as the one in existence in Japan? Professor West testifies and educates everyone on the nuanced differences between US Law and Japanese Law.

In Japan you can not be charged with just conspiracy. There is no such statute of law on their books. However, under their murder statute, there is a theory of colusion, but you can not be convicted of a "theory" in Japan. West testifies that Japan is in violation of international treaties because it does not have a conspiracy statute. There is a big movement in Japan to try to enact a conspiracy law. They have tried three times and each time it has failed. After reading the Japanese court documents, Professor West testified that Miura was convicted of attempted murder, fraud and murder. The murder conviction was later overturned by a higher court and Miura released from prison.

Professor West held his own under relentless cross examination by Mark Geragos. Professor West disagreed with the prosecution's translation of the Japanese court proceedings, where the English word "conspiracy" is used several times. One of the Japanese words that can have several meanings, especially when used in the context of law is "kyobo." West states that it was translated as "conspiracy, collusion, colludes." In his reading of the court documents, it was not always translated properly. Koybo does not have the same concept in the US, West said. In translation, it can mean collusion or plotting. But the word plotting is not a easy word to translate from Japanese to English. Translating koybo as "complicity" would be a stretch.

Professor West was clear that in Japan, you can not be convicted for conspiracy as a stand alone charge. As Geragos gets snippy with West, the video feed with Saipan is lost, but not the sound connection. Several times Geragos raises his voice and appears to be badgering the witness.

At about this same time, a buzzer goes off in the courtroom. There is a jury deliberating in the jury room and they want to go home. The court takes a few minutes break while the Judge deals with the jury working on another case. If I'm remembering correctly, Allan Parachini, who is sitting in the jury box along with the Japanese film crew and still photographers, gets up and forcefully moves the film camera so that it is aiming away from possibly photographing any jurors that might be exiting the courtroom.

It's near 4:30 pm and Judge Van Sicklen will not continue the hearing past that time. Geragos has not had the opportunity to put on his own witness. His expert who wrote an opinion submitted with his motion, a Mr. Cleary (sp?) is currently in Mongolia. He wants to try to get him here to testify.

Judge Van Sicklen wants to continue the hearing and counsel try to work out another day and time. As court is ending, Van Sicklen comments that, ". . . the written work on both sides is outstanding." The next hearing date is scheduled for September 5th, at 1:30 pm.

September 5th
On this day, Mr. Sprocket drives down with me to the Torrance courthouse. I want him to take a short video of the prosecution arriving at court so I can put it up on the blog. However, we arrived too late to film their arrival. Mr. Sprocket left me at the courthouse and went off shopping at Home Depot. I was only able to get a photo of Mr. Pat Dixon arriving by himself.

When I'm finally in the courtroom, all the same players are seated and ready to go. Geragos for the defense, and Jackson, Ocampo, and Asayama for the prosecution. Pat Dixon is sitting in the row in front of me. I notice he has a large, absolutely striking watch on his left wrist and I have a hard time pulling my eyes away from it. There is a waiver by both parties for the Saipan hookup today. Geragos filed a number of exhibits but will not be putting on any witnesses today. I'm guessing he couldn't get his expert to leave Mongolia and come to the US to testify.

Geragos argues his exhibits first. Van Sicklen removes his glasses and rocks a bit in his chair, his expression a study in concentration as he listens to Geragos's argument. Late arrival reporters enter the room and I have a hard time hearing Geragos from the back row. Consequently, I don't have any notes on his arguments. Then Jackson is up at bat and he makes an interesting argument. "The real issue is, which law applies? We know there is a 793 law that provides no protection [. . .] which of the two citations of the law applies [here]? The law as it stands clearly dictates that the only penal code that applies is 793. Any statute can be appealed at any time [. . .] 656 is not a substantial defense; it's a procedural [statute]. 793 only vests when he [the defendant] enters a plea of once in jeopardy. The laws methods have to be pursued by the defendant. Double jeopardy is not applied unless the defense has asked for the application of those rights. [. . .] As I indicated, a change in a statute can be amend a procedure down the road."

More arguments are made, and then Judge Van Sicklen does something interesting. He interrupts Jackson and asks this question of him, "When does jeopardy attach?" And with this question, I get a gut feeling that Van Sicklen has made up his mind on the murder charge, and he believes that jeopardy has attached in the '88 murder warrant. I keep thinking he's going to rule on that right then and there. Jackson and Van Sicklen go back and forth on this issue. Asayama steps up and states, "He [Miura] never made that claim of double jeopardy. In order for it to legally vest, the defendant has to assert." Jackson is back on point. "[The] defendant never entered the once in jeopardy plea. [. . .] He has no double jeopardy claim because California doesn't recognize the Japan conviction." With this argument, Jackson is relying on the new statute that was ammended in 2004.

It's now Ric Ocampo's turn, and he addresses the "aiding and abetting" theory verses the "conspiracy" theory. There are several ways the prosecution can go, since the ". . . crime of conspiracy doesn't exist in Japan. There is no 'enhanced' punishment in Japan for a 'theory' of conspiracy."

Geragos gets in the last word today. "It's not true that it's necessary a defendant has to come to court to declare to be vested. The act that triggers the protection is the jury conviction." Geragos's tone shows he's quite irritated with the prosecution's arguments. "Jeopardy attaches once the conviction occurs. The comparison of this case to a juvenile case example is ludacrous!"

Judge Van Sicklen responds, "I think I've heard enough. there's still a lot of analysis I have to do, but by the end of next week, it's impossible. I'm going to try to provide some analysis." With a smile on his face Van Sicklen adds, "No more briefs!" And with that comment several of the attorney's laugh and court is adjourned for the day.

I call Mr. Sprocket to come pick me up and we decide to spend the rest of the day shopping in the Torrance area. We stop by the huge Marukai market and some other Asian stores before we head back to the valley.

September 26th
On the drive down donchais and I talk about several hot cases we're covering and the various comments we've received on the blog: Judge Halverson, Casey Anthony and of course, Phil Spector. I don't believe there will be much coverage of Spector. The economy is about ready to tank, most new organizations are hurting and besides, it's old news. I predict if there is coverage, it will only be the important points of the trial. There will not be anything new at round deux. We both think that there is a strong possibility that Halverson could have injured herself because the tape of her 911 call sounds completely scripted. We're also hoping that the Orange County Sheriff's Office in Orlando, Florida is getting their final T's crossed and I's dotted for an arrest of Casey Anthony on the death of her child, Caylee. We are both overly saturated with Casey Anthony drama and wish the entire crazy family would just go away.

When I finally get to the parking lot, I realize that my cell phone battery is just about dead and I won't be able to take the photographs of the building and all the reporters waiting outside like I had hoped. I sit in my car a bit, trying to charge up my phone.

On the fifth floor, the crowd of Japanese reporters appears smaller than the last time, but it's just an illusion. The Public Information Office (PIO) has more than half their staff here to keep the process moving smoothly and orderly. There is a demand for individuals to turn over their recording devices, and many of the reporters hand them to the PIO staff for safekeeping. Today, Allan Parachini announces to the crowd that no email, PDA's or laptops will be allowed in the courtroom today. I notice there are two young deputy explorers standing by the front door to the courtroom and they will be inside to assist in keeping order.

I see the City News desk reporter, and I over hear her talking to the newest member of the PIO staff. I step closer and ask her if she will be covering Spector. She doesn't know yet. Her superiors still have not made the decision whether or not they will put a reporter on that trial every day. And then I see a face that I thought had left the PIO office and moved out of state. It's Miriam! I over hear her tell someone that she's just here for a wedding, and she is helping out for a few days. I reach over and touch her shoulder and tell her it's nice to see her.

I'm finally inside the courtroom in the back row, but I don't see any counsel up at the tables. Sandi Gibbons is a late arrival with Rick Ocampo. Phyllis I saw in the hallway earlier. I see Claudia from KFWB grab the last seat in the front row on the right. I haven't seen her since a month or so after the end of Spector 1. I now see Mark Geragos alone at the defense table. The courtroom is packed. Almost every seat is filled. It's 1:32 pm and Alan Jackson isn't here yet.

A few minutes later and I see Jackson at the prosecution's table. He appears to be reading a document, his posture in a familiar position. His right elbow is resting on the table, and his right forefinger is resting on his right temple. He appears completely absorbed in the document he's reading. At 1:36 pm Judge Van Sicklen takes the bench.

Van Sicklen states that both counsels have the written ruling with his analysis he's prepared. He is granting the defense motion to quash the arrest warrant on the murder, but denying it as to the conspiracy count. His reasons for his decisions are in the written ruling.

Geragos requests that the Judge stay the ruling until they can get an appellate ruling. Van Sicklen responds, "I don't have any jurisdiction over Saipan." Geragos goes on to ask again to stay to seek an appellate ruling. Ocampo stands and defends the people's position.

Van Sicklen states, "He [Miura] will be arraigned in downtown, Department 30." The case is now out of his hands.

And that's it. Court is over and the press files out to get a copy of the Judge's written ruling. Only those news organizations on the list will receive a single free copy. All others will have to pay for a copy in the clerk's office. I debate on whether or not to wait the reported half hour it will take to get the extra copies ready for sale. I decide to leave the courthouse and head home.

Outside the courthouse, I'm standing on the steps trying to decide whether or not I'm going to listen to Geragos talk to the press or head directly home. Jackson and Ric Ocampo are on the sidewalk along with, IIRC, Pat Dixon. This is my opportunity to ask the prosecution a question. I approach the group and ask, "Has it been decided who will be assigned to this case?" Ocampo responds that at this time, nothing has changed. Ocampo and Dixon are now trying to convince Jackson to at least listen in on the presser. Jackson's not interested, and I don't blame him. Ocampo asks Jackson something to the effect of, "What are you going to go do?" And Jackson jokingly responds "I'm going to go hang out with her," reaching his arm out towards me. At a loss for words, I smile as everyone slowly walks over to listen in on what Geragos is saying to the press.

Afterwards, Sandi Gibbons addresses the group of reporters. When I get bored with the press questions, I walk towards the group of PIO staff. Nervous, I try to make some small talk with the ladies. "Is it a short day today?" I ask. They smile and say it's already a long day. And then I ask them a faux pas question, "Did anyone have any predictions?" And that makes them all freeze and Allan Parachini quickly comes over to answer, stating something to the effect of, "It's not their position to have an opinion." Oops. Wrong thing to ask. All during the drive home I'm driving behind a huge white truck that says, 'Document Shredmobile,' and all I can think about is I'm worrying that I've unintentionally pissed of Allan Parachini. From now on, I'll just smile and ask if anyone has any pets.

The Associated Press


Steve Huff said...

Hey, I sent you an e-mail, but I just read this and was kind of tickled -- I went to high school with Mark West. He was one of our valedictorians in my class and the student director of our madrigal group (Mark & I were both tenors). I still keep in touch via e-mail. Reading this, I realize, DAMN, I should have paid a lot more attention to this case.