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Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006

Accused in Blackman trial denies all charges

Staff writer

Joji Obara, accused of fatally drugging two women, including British hostess Lucie Blackman, and raping eight others, made his final plea Monday at the Tokyo District Court, denying all charges against him.

"It would be impossible for me to do such a thing," Obara, 54, said, referring to the mutilation and burial of Blackman's body in a cave. "The prosecutor's statements contain no truth."

Obara's lawyers also claimed prosecutors have tried to hold him responsible for Blackman's death despite having no evidence.

Obara, wearing a gray jacket, spoke for nearly two hours, arguing that investigators fabricated the physical evidence found buried with Blackman's body parts, while eliminating evidence in his favor.

But evidence against him has mounted over the six-year trial and put Obara's claims of innocence to a severe test. The verdict is scheduled for April 24.

The string of horrific sex crimes came to light after Blackman, a former flight attendant with British Airways, was reported missing in July 2000. Police were informed that Obara was a regular customer of Blackman's at a now-defunct hostess club in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district and that the two were in contact at the time of her disappearance.

Prosecutors accuse Obara of drugging and raping Blackman at his condominium in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, on July 1. They alleged that after she died of an overdose, Obara dismembered her and buried the body in a cave near another condominium he owns on the Miura Peninsula, also in Kanagawa.

Blackman's disappearance triggered a high-profile investigation in which several women said Obara had raped them.

Police found chemicals that are often used for date-rape, including chloroform, and about 200 videotapes of a man who appeared to be Obara having sex with semiconscious women at his condo in Zushi.

Obara was arrested in October 2000 and charged with drugging and raping two foreign women in 1996 and 1997. Prosecutors later indicted him on date-rape charges in a total of 10 incidents involving Japanese and foreign women between 1992 and 2000. Blackman's alleged rape was one, Australian Carita Ridgway, who was also fatally drugged, was another.

Obara has denied the allegations since the start of the trial, saying he engaged in violent sexual "play" with the women but it was consensual. He has acknowledged meeting with Blackman but denied any wrongdoing such as using chemicals to rape her. "Blackman could have contacted anyone with her cell phone or even have left the condominium of her own free will," Obara's lawyers said of the July 1, 2000, encounter between the two.

"Most of the women brought their own drugs," Obara also said, adding that he never forced drugs on his accusers.

Blackman's body was discovered in February 2001 after the trial had begun, but prosecutors have not charged Obara with murder due to lack of evidence.

Regarding Ridgway, whom prosecutors claimed died from an overdose of chloroform, Obara's lawyers argued her death was a result of poor medical treatment she received for food poisoning after eating raw oysters with Obara.

But Obara admitted he felt responsible for events he may have set in motion and revealed that he is offering 50 million yen in condolence money to the Ridgway family.

Obara paid 100 million yen to Blackman's family as condolence and an average of 2 million yen to 3 million yen to his eight other accusers as well.

Prosecutors in October had demanded life in prison for Obara, whom they branded "a beast with a human face."

After Obara completed his testimony, Judge Tsutomu Tochigi announced that the verdict will be handed down April 24.

Obara was president of an asset-management company at the time of his arrest.

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