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Man Convicted of Killing 2 Students From Japan

Courts: Gang member faces death penalty or life in prison in murders that prompted international outcry.

March 14, 1996|MILES CORWIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Pedro gang member was convicted in the execution-style murders of two Marymount College students from Japan, crimes that stunned that country and prompted condolence calls from President Clinton and U.S. diplomats.

After about four hours of deliberations, a Long Beach Superior Court jury found Raymond Oscar "Mugsy" Butler, 21, guilty on two counts of first-degree murder.

Butler faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The penalty phase of the trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

"What happened to those two students is everyone's nightmare," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Janet Moore, who prosecuted the case. "They put up no resistance whatsoever. Yet they were killed in a random, senseless act of violence."

The two victims, Takuma Ito, 19, and Go Matsuura, 19, were interested in becoming filmmakers. They had hoped to transfer to film schools at USC or UCLA.

On March 25, 1994, the victims, who were on spring break, had dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Gardena and drove to a Ralphs supermarket lot in San Pedro. A friend in another car testified that he saw Butler approach the victims and demand the keys to their car. The friend said he saw Butler push one of the victims down to his hands and knees and heard a single shot.

The friend heard Butler shout, "Give me your money! Don't make me shoot you. I have a gun."

A few minutes later the friend heard several more shots and saw the car being driven away. He found his two friends sprawled on the asphalt, shot to death.

The killings made headlines in Japan, and prompted Clinton and Walter Mondale, the U.S. ambassador to that country, to call the grieving families to express condolences.

A year after the murders, the parents of the slain youths and the president of Marymount College met with a representative of the Clinton administration at the White House.

"The response by politicians was to assure people who are unfamiliar with our legal system that we meant to pursue justice to the fullest extent possible," Moore said.

"People from other countries have heard about the oddities of our legal system," she said. "But now they know that just because someone isn't American, that doesn't mean we won't pursue justice."

Last year, while awaiting trial, Butler allegedly participated in the stabbing death of a Men's Central Jail inmate, authorities said. He was one of three inmates to attack Tyrone Flemming, 23, and stab him to death with a makeshift knife, they said.

Butler apparently slipped out of his handcuffs as he and a group of other prisoners were walking from their cells to showers. He began striking Flemming, and another inmate, also jailed on a murder charge, removed his handcuffs and stabbed Flemming, authorities said. Butler took the knife and also stabbed Flemming, authorities said.

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