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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dad urges harshest sentence for Obara


Staff writer

Timothy Blackman asked the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday to give the maximum penalty to Joji Obara, who is standing trial for the rape and fatal drugging of his daughter, Lucie, as well as another death and the rapes of eight other women.

News photo
Timothy Blackman speaks during a news conference at a Tokyo hotel.

Lucie Blackman of Britain disappeared July 1, 2000, while working as a bar hostess in Tokyo's Roppongi district. Her dismembered body was found seven months later in a seaside cave in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, just steps away from a condominium owned by Obara.

"My children and I have been sentenced to a lifetime of sorrow," Blackman told the court, his voice shaking.

He described the years since his daughter's slaying as "living in a nightmare," haunted by images of her decomposing body in plastic bags as well as the sorrow of knowing he would never hear her voice again.

He demanded "the maximum penalty and the longest sentence," calling anything less an insult to his daughter's life.

"I can't stop myself from thinking of the moment when her life stopped," he said. "Was she in pain? Was she terrified? Did she call for me?"

Obara refused to appear in court, just as he did last week when Lucie Blackman's mother, Jane Steare, appeared and also demanded the maximum sentence.

Court officials said when they went to get Obara for the day's session, they found him crouched in a small alcove in his cell.

His lawyers have said he refuses to be present at a trial in which his guilt is assumed. It is customary during trials for the victim's family to give opinions about sentencing before the court hands down a verdict.

When he has been in court, Obara has spent his time shuffling through papers without looking anyone in the eye.

Obara, a real estate developer who owned beachfront condominiums around the country, has pleaded not guilty to charges of rape, rape resulting in injury, rape resulting in death, abduction for immoral purposes, and mutilation and abandonment of a corpse. He has not been charged with homicide.

Obara is accused of giving Blackman a fatal drug overdose before raping her and then dismembering her body. He is also charged with raping nine other women, foreign and Japanese, including Carita Ridgway, an Australian who died of liver failure a few days after Obara allegedly pressed a chloroform-soaked cloth over her face and raped her.

Timothy Blackman told reporters later in the day that Obara offered £500,000 to him and his family "to stay away from court and not to give evidence."

The sensational case continues to capture the public's attention, despite the length of the trial, which began December 2000.

The case has been bogged down by problems from the start.

Police were slow to investigate the disappearance of Lucie Blackman because she was a hostess. She had worked at Casablanca, a now-defunct Roppongi bar frequented by wealthy men who took the beautiful foreign women working there out on dates.

Lucie Blackman was last heard from the day she disappeared when she called her roommate, Louise Phillips, to tell her she was going out for a drive with a customer.

After her disappearance, her family launched their own highly publicized search, putting up missing-person posters, and speaking to journalists, criminal profilers and bar hostesses.

Eventually three foreign women contacted the family to say they had woken up sick in strange beds with no memory of the night before. Two said they reported the incidents to police but had been ignored.

This time their statements led police to Obara's apartments and his arrest in October 2000.

In the apartments, police found about 200 videos of what appears to be Obara raping unconscious women, along with the date-rape drug Rohypnol and chloroform.

However, it was not until late February 2001 that police discovered Lucie Blackman's severed head encased in cement and her dismembered body near Obara's Miura condo. They believe she died in his condo in Zushi, also in Kanagawa.

The body was identified by dental records, but it was too badly decomposed for forensic tests to be carried out, an issue the defense was quick to point out.

On Tuesday, they again demanded that prosecutors explain how the cause of death was determined.

Born Kim Sung Jong in 1952 in Osaka, Obara's story is one of rags to riches and again to rags. His father earned a fortune through odd jobs and then running a pachinko parlor. He inherited that money and took a Japanese name, Seisho Hoshiyama, in 1969.

At age 21, he changed his identity again, taking the name Joji Obara when he took Japanese nationality.

In October 2001, Obara's entire defense team resigned over differences on how to argue the case, according to the current counsel.



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The Japan Times

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