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    Obara found guilty but not in Blackman case

    Joji Obara, accused of murdering hostess Lucie Blackman in 2000, has now been tried and sentenced:

    A Tokyo court on Tuesday sentenced businessman Joji Obara to life in prison for drugging and raping nine women, including an Australian who died, but acquitted him in the death of Briton Lucie Blackman.

    The Tokyo District Court said prosecutors failed to provide evidence that proves Obara, 54, was responsible for the death of the 21-year-old British hostess whose dismembered body was found in Kanagawa Prefecture in 2001.

    Prosecutors used as evidence videotapes seized from Obara’s home that showed him attacking the nine victims.

    But there was no such footage of Blackman on the tapes.

    In fact, prosecutors’ arguments concerning the Blackman case were based largely on circumstantial evidence.

    Even the cause of her death has not been established.

    Prosecutors argued that Obara was seen with Blackman just before she went missing, and that the same type of cement used to encase her head was found in Obara’s room.

    But the judge said these pieces of evidence do not show to what degree Obara was involved in Blackman’s death.

    The judge concluded, “Doubts remain over whether the criminal actions were carried out solely by the defendant.”

    I can see how the Blackman family would be unsatisfied with the verdict, but it doesn’t seem unjustified. Obara’s story (the Mainichi has a Japanese report here) is that an acquaintance of his, now conveniently dead, was the one who assaulted and killed Blackman and disposed of her corpse. I don’t buy it, but it certainly could have happened that way.

    Of course, one can imagine political reasons for the verdict. There were widely-aired accusations that the police had been slow to investigate and, once on the case, slow and slipshod. The court’s decision doesn’t disprove that, but it makes it possible to take a position along the lines of, “See? Even when the police were forced to investigate thoroughly, they didn’t find enough evidence to convict Obara, so perhaps their original judgment calls weren’t so baseless after all.”

    3 Responses to “Obara found guilty but not in Blackman case”

    1. ken says:

      He was born Kim Sung Jong in 1952 to Korean parents in Osaka. His father was a poor immigrant who built himself a fortune in taxis, property and pachinko, the addictive Japanese version of bagatelle. At 15, Kim Sung Jong was sent to the preparatory school for the private and prestigious Keio University in Tokyo. There he studied politics and law. It was at this time that he underwent surgery on his eyes to make them larger and less oriental, and he took on a new, Japanese name, Seisho Hoshiyama.

      When Seisho was 17, his father died in Hong Kong. Seisho shared the vast inheritance with his two brothers and, at the age of 21, underwent another shift of identity, taking on Japanese nationality and the name of Joji Obara.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Thanks for the information for those who didn’t follow the case very closely. The Korean angle is interesting, though one might have expected it to make the judges more likely to throw the book at him on every count. A good buddy of mine, when a bunch of us were filling in a visitor on the Hawker and Blackman cases, said, “Japan must have been so collectively relieved when Obara turned out to be a naturalized citizen.”

      One detail that I’m not sure you got right: I think Obara’s mother got a significant share of the inheritance, including the pachinko parlors. IIRC, he got himself into financial straits and she had to bail him out. I suppose it’s possible, though, that one of the brothers died and left those assets to their mother in turn.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Oh, one other thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned: Japan doesn’t have trial by jury for criminal cases, though I think the jury system is supposed to be adopted in a few years. Cases are decided by a panel of judges.

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