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Strange L.A. cold case investigation ends

Escorted by Los Angeles police, Kazuyoshi Miura, right, a Japanese businessman accused of arranging the murder of his wife in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, arrives at Los Angeles International Airport after being extradited from Saipan. (AP Photo)

By Linda Deutsch
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A strange cold case murder story that stretched halfway around the globe and back over a span of nearly 30 years ended this weekend a few blocks from where it began, with the shocking suicide of Japanese businessman Kazuyoshi Miura in a downtown jail cell.

"None of this makes any sense," attorney Mark Geragos, who was representing Miura, said Saturday. "He was extremely engaged in his defense. He was giving us advice and input. He wanted to fight this."

Geragos said Miura, 61, maintained to the end that he had nothing to do with the death of his 28-year-old wife, Kazumi, in 1981. Miura battled extradition to the United States this year but finally agreed to come back and face trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder his long-dead wife.

His suicide, in which police said he hanged himself with a piece of his shirt in his jail cell, was the last bizarre twist in a case that had many. The story became a sensation in Japan, where it was known as "the Japanese O.J. case," and hordes of Japanese journalists had flocked to Los Angeles for the impending trial.

The case, which inspired an episode of TV's "Law & Order," began in a downtown Los Angeles parking garage where, on Nov. 18, 1981, Miura reported that he and his wife were shot by unknown assailants after a day of sightseeing. The incident made headlines after Miura called a news conference from his hospital bed to denounce Los Angeles as a violent city for tourists. He portrayed himself and his wife as innocent victims.

The city, which was preparing for the 1984 Summer Olympics at the time, was sensitive to the accusations, and police vowed to find the killers. The police chief later said he suspected Miura from the outset.

Miura was shot in the leg and recovered, but his wife, who was shot in the head, lingered in a coma for a year. He eventually took her back to Tokyo, where she died.

In 1984, suspicion fell on Miura after Japanese media reported he had collected about $1.4 million in life insurance on his wife.

Then an actress who claimed to be Miura's lover came forward and said he solicited her to kill his wife by hitting her over the head with a hammer at Los Angeles' New Otani Hotel three months before the shooting. Miura was arrested in Japan in 1985 and convicted of attempted murder in that case.

While serving a six-year sentence, he was charged in Japan in 1988 with his wife's murder. He was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison, but the Japanese Supreme Court reversed the case and acquitted him in 2003.

After his release, Miura often spoke publicly about what he said were false accusations against him and hounding by the media. He became a successful public speaker, and it was his trip to the U.S. territory of Saipan for a speaking engagement that tripped him up.

Los Angeles investigators who had been keeping tabs on him for nearly three decades learned of his plans and arrested him as he was about to leave Saipan on Feb. 21 to return to Japan.

A legal battle ensued over efforts to bring him to Los Angeles for trial. Geragos, a celebrated criminal defense lawyer, took Miura's case and argued that to try him for murder again in California would violate double jeopardy laws.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Steven Van Sicklen in Torrance agreed, but ruled that Miura had never been tried for conspiracy to murder and said prosecutors could go forward with that charge.

Miura waived extradition, although if convicted of conspiracy, his potential sentence would have been the same as for murder - 25 years to life in state prison.

On Thursday, as Miura was en route to the United States, prosecutors filed papers seeking to reinstate the murder charge, and a hearing was scheduled for next week. But on Friday night, only hours after his arrival, Miura was dead.

"It was apparent that the murder suspect, alone in his cell, had used a piece of his shirt as a makeshift ligature around his neck," Charlie Beck, chief of detectives for the Los Angeles Police Department, said at a news conference Saturday at police headquarters.

Beck said guards had checked on Miura only 10 minutes before he was found dead at 9:45 p.m. Officers rushed into the cell and gave him cardiopulmonary resuscitation while medical workers were summoned. Miura did not respond to treatment and was pronounced dead at USC Medical Center, Beck said.

He said the death will be investigated by the LAPD Force Investigation Division, and results will be reviewed by the police chief, inspector general and the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Those who saw Miura shortly after his arrival from Saipan said there was no hint that he was planning suicide, and authorities saw no reason to put him on suicide watch.

The development stunned many, including the Japanese Consul General in California, Masara Dekiba, who spent 15 minutes with Miura on Friday morning and said he looked fine.

Miura even asked the consul to tell jailers that he was allergic to fried foods and requested an international phone call to his new wife.

"Why Mr. Miura killed himself I do not know," said Dekiba, who called the family personally to inform them of Miura's death.

Beck appeared at the news conference with Rick Jackson, a police investigator who had tracked Miura for decades. Both appeared downcast, and Beck described them as "shocked and disappointed."

"This was not what we had envisioned for this case," Beck said.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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