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Trial OKd for Japanese man in '81 killing

Kazuyoshi Miura can be tried for conspiracy, not murder, judge says.

September 27, 2008|Jack Leonard | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles County judge ruled Friday that prosecutors could pursue their case against a Japanese businessman in the 1981 slaying of his wife in downtown Los Angeles, saying the man's earlier acquittal in Japan in the murder case did not prevent him from being tried in California for conspiracy to commit murder.

The decision marked a partial victory for Los Angeles County prosecutors, who had hoped to try Kazuyoshi Miura for murder as well. Prosecutors resurrected the case in an effort to close the book on a local murder mystery that has transfixed the Japanese public for nearly three decades.

Miura remains incarcerated in Saipan, where he was arrested earlier this year in connection with the Los Angeles-based charges.

A decision on his extradition to California could be made as early as Monday.

Miura's attorney, Mark Geragos, said outside court that he was gratified by the decision to dismiss a murder charge against Miura but disappointed that the conspiracy charge was allowed to stand.

He said he hadn't decided whether to appeal or wait to file new arguments in Los Angeles if Miura is extradited.

Prosecutors contend that Miura staged his wife's killing, claiming that she had been shot by street thugs. He was initially viewed as a tragic hero but was later accused of masterminding the killing in a bid to collect about $700,000 in life insurance.

Friday's ruling by Superior Court Judge Steven Van Sicklen in Torrance hinged on whether bringing Miura to trial in Los Angeles would violate the constitutional ban on double jeopardy.

Miura, who has maintained that he is innocent, was convicted of murder in Japan in 1994 and sentenced to life. But four years later, the Tokyo High Court overturned the verdict and acquitted him, concluding that there was not enough evidence to prove his guilt.

California law long held that a defendant acquitted overseas could not be tried in the state for the same crime. In 2004, however, state lawmakers removed the double jeopardy protection for those tried overseas, a change that county prosecutors said paved the way for Miura to stand trial in L.A.

Local prosecutors never dismissed the murder and conspiracy charges they had filed against Miura in 1988. But for as long as he stayed in Japan, Miura remained out of reach.

Last year, however, he advertised on a blog his plans for a possible visit to the U.S. territory of Saipan. He was arrested in Saipan in February as he tried to return home to Japan.

Miura's attorneys argued that he could not be tried again because his acquittal in Japan predated the change of law in California. But Los Angeles prosecutors disagreed, arguing that they should be allowed to at least charge Miura with conspiracy to commit murder because he was never charged with such a crime in Japan.

Until Van Sicklen's ruling, Miura had been facing charges that carry a possible death sentence. Conspiracy to commit murder carries a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

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jack.leonard@latimes.com

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