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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Serial rapist Obara's appeal starts

Staff writer

Joji Obara's appeals trial started Tuesday before the Tokyo High Court with his defense team arguing that the life sentence he received for serial rape and for causing the death of one of his victims is too harsh.

Prosecutors, who are also appealing, meanwhile want this time around to ensure Obara is convicted of murdering British bar hostess Lucie Blackman, whose dismembered corpse was found buried in a seaside cave steps away from one of the condos owned by the defendant, who was also her client.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Obara to life in prison last April 24 for drugging and raping nine women and causing the death of Australian hostess Carita Ridgway, one of his victims, in 1992. But in what was considered a surprise move, the court acquitted him in the slaying of Blackman, who disappeared during an outing with him in July 2000. Obara immediately appealed.

According to his defense team, Obara, 55, admits that he had sex with Ridgway but denies using chloroform to drug her. Ridgway died of fulminant hepatitis, which the district court determined was caused by chloroform.

Blackman's corpse was found in a beach cave in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, close to an Obara condo, in February 2001. It is believed he raped her at another of his condos in nearby Zushi.

The district court reckoned that although Obara, one of Blackman's customers at a bar in Tokyo's Roppongi district, had invited her to his condo and was in some way involved with dismembering and burying her corpse, the evidence was not convincing enough to prove he was directly responsible for her death. Prosecutors appealed this ruling.

Obara was initially charged with drugging and raping two foreign women, in 1996 and 1997, but was later indicted on 10 date-rape charges in total.

Investigators found some 200 videotapes that recorded Obara wearing a mask and engaging in sexual acts with the victims, according to the reports.

The case created an international media sensation and drew criticism of police investigative methods.

Ridgway's family has criticized police for not interviewing Obara about her death in 1992, even though her family had raised the alarm that he was involved, according to a statement the family wrote for the media after April's ruling.

His crimes "would have been stopped at that time," if the police had "properly investigated" Obara, the Ridgways' statement said.

Death penalty upheld

Kyodo News

The Tokyo High Court upheld the death sentence Tuesday for a man who murdered two people in Shizuoka Prefecture, in 2004 and 2005, upholding the February 2007 verdict by the Shizuoka District Court.

Osamu Okura, a 39-year-old former co-op worker from the prefecture, "committed obsessive, cruel crimes," presiding Judge Fumio Yasuhiro said. "The death sentence from the first trial was imperative."

The defense asked for a reduced punishment, saying the defendant was suffering depression at the times of the slayings of a colleague and of his wife. But the court rejected the claim, saying he was mentally competent at the time.

Okura was having an affair with a woman and stabbed coworker Akira Makita, 37, who was his mistress' boss, to death with a kitchen knife in a car in Yaizu on Sept. 16, 2004, allegedly because the victim had disparaged her. Okura buried the man's body in a tea plantation the following day.

On Sept. 9, 2005, Okura strangled his 36-year-old wife with a necktie at their home in Yaizu after she learned of the affair. He then dismembered her corpse and dumped the parts in several locations a day later, the court said.

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