TOKYO: A former US military base employee was sentenced to life in prison on Friday for the rape and murder of a local woman on the southern island of Okinawa, according to local media.
The case has intensified longstanding local opposition to the American military presence on the strategic island, which reluctantly hosts nearly 75 percent of land allotted for US bases in Japan even though it accounts for just a fraction of the country’s total area.
Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a 33-year-old former US Marine employed at the US Air Force’s sprawling Kadena Air Base, was arrested last year for disposing of the body of the victim and was later charged for murder and sexual assault leading to death.
Shinzato in November denied intending to kill the woman, identified as Rina Shimabukuro, but confessed that he had assaulted her.
Prosecutors told the Naha District Court in Okinawa that the accused choked Shimabukuro with his hands and stabbed her in the neck during an attempted sexual assault on a road.
The court on Friday handed down the life imprisonment sentence as requested by the prosecutors, according to public broadcaster NHK and the Asahi Shimbun daily.
The court was not immediately available for comment.
The victim’s father said in a statement issued in April that the family “wants capital punishment”, according to NHK.
“We think of her and pray for her soul every day… We cannot forgive” Shinzato, the father said.
A series of crimes including rapes, assaults, hit-and-run and drink-driving accidents by US personnel have long sparked protests on Okinawa, and have been a frequent irritant in relations between close security allies Japan and the United States.
More than half the 47,000 American troops in Japan under a decades-long security alliance are stationed on Okinawa, the site of a major World War II battle that was followed by a 27-year US occupation of the island.