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Attorney says Miura was choked in jail

Lawyer's pathologist cites evidence that the recently extradited inmate may not have committed suicide.

October 21, 2008|Andrew Blankstein | Blankstein is a Times staff writer.
  • A 1985 photo taken after Kazuyoshi Miura?s arrest in Japan for the murder of his wife. He was convicted of murder in Japan, but the verdict was thrown out four years later and Miura was acquitted.
A 1985 photo taken after Kazuyoshi Miura?s arrest in Japan for the murder… (File photo / Associated…)

A Japanese businessman who reportedly committed suicide in a Los Angeles jail cell suffered wounds consistent with a choking and beating, his lawyer said Monday.

Mark Geragos hired an independent pathologist to examine the body of his client, Kazuyoshi Miura, after the L.A. County coroner's office released it. Geragos said the pathologist found injuries to the middle and lower parts of the back as well as to the larynx.

"Clearly it was missed by the coroner," Geragos said.

The death is under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department's Force Investigations Division. On Monday, Police Chief William J. Bratton rebutted suggestions that Miura was strangled by another person.

"There is no evidence of foul play," he said. "The death was by suicide."

According to LAPD Deputy Chief Mark Perez, officers had made the appropriate checks of Miura, who police say was in a cell alone. Miura was discovered after an inmate heard a noise.

Geragos confirmed that Miura, who was accused of killing his wife in 1981, did not leave a suicide note, even though he was a prolific writer and blogger.

Miura, 61, was found dead Oct. 10 at the Parker Center jail. Police said he hanged himself with a T-shirt less than a day after being extradited to Los Angeles from Saipan to stand trial on a conspiracy charge in his wife's death.

Geragos said pathologist Brian Posey found ligature marks on Miura's neck that were "consistent with a choking, not a hanging."

L.A. County coroner's spokesman Ed Winter said his office has yet to issue its findings in the case.

"We have not determined a cause of death," Winter said.

Geragos criticized the coroner's office for not reexamining Miura's body in light of the new findings.

Miura's case has long been a high-profile story in Japan, where the onetime ocean-hopping importer was dubbed "the Japanese O.J. Simpson."

Miura was accused of plotting the death of his wife, Kazumi Miura, 28, who was shot in the head in November 1981 while they were visiting downtown Los Angeles. He was shot in the leg.

Eventually, authorities said they were able to build a case showing Miura had conspired to kill his wife, possibly by signaling someone else to shoot, to collect $750,000 in life insurance payments.

A warrant for his arrest was issued in 1988 alleging murder and conspiracy, but Los Angeles detectives could not extradite him while he was living in Japan. Miura was convicted of murder there in 1994, but the verdict was overturned.

In February, Miura wrote on his blog about plans to visit Saipan. He was arrested there on the original 1988 warrant.

Miura at first fought extradition but last month agreed to return to Los Angeles after a judge dismissed the murder charge as double jeopardy because of Miura's trial in Japan.

A charge of conspiracy to commit murder remained.

After the legal hurdles were cleared, Miura was flown to Los Angeles. He had been booked and was scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 14 on the conspiracy charge.

Miura was found dead in his cell about 9:45 p.m. Oct. 10 by a custody officer. LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said a preliminary investigation of the incident found no violations of LAPD policy or state law requiring regular half-hour checks on inmates. An LAPD detention officer checked on Miura at 9:36 p.m. -- 10 minutes before he was found in distress -- and noted nothing unusual.

Beck added that Miura had made no statements indicating he was suicidal, nor had he acted in any way to suggest he would kill himself either in Los Angeles or during previous stints in jail.

Geragos told The Times that a lawyer from his office had visited Miura, who was in good spirits.

"There was no indication that he was despondent or depressed," Geragos said at the time. "He was ready and girded for the fight."

andrew.blankstein@ latimes.com

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