TOKYO — The U.S. government has agreed to pay compensation to the family of a slain Okinawan woman in place of a former U.S. base worker convicted of murdering her in 2016, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Friday.
“In case the payment from the U.S. side falls short (of the reparations awarded by the court), the Japanese government will pay the rest as condolence money,” Onodera said after his talks with his U.S. counterpart Jim Mattis in Tokyo.
Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, who has appealed his conviction by the Naha District Court for the murder of the 20-year-old woman, did not appeal the court’s Jan. 31 order to pay compensation to the family, which became finalized. The amount ordered has not been disclosed.
After his defense team claimed Shinzato lacks the ability to pay, the woman’s family sought compensation from the U.S. government under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. The defendant was a civilian working for an internet company on the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture at the time of the crime.
According to the Defense Ministry, Washington asserts that Shinzato does not qualify as an employee of the U.S. armed forces as stipulated in the agreement, thus it is making payment in place of him on a “voluntary and humanitarian” basis.
The payment is an extremely rare response from the United States, indicating its sensitivity to the strong resentment the case aroused among the people of Okinawa.
The ministry has informed the slain woman’s family of the planned payment and obtained their consent, according to ministry sources.
The district court sentenced Shinzato to life in prison in December 2017, saying he struck her on the head with a bar and stabbed her in the neck with a knife while attempting to rape her in the Okinawa city of Uruma on April 28, 2016, killing her as a result.
The case sparked public uproar and strengthened anti-U.S. base sentiment in Okinawa, which hosts most of the U.S. military facilities in Japan and has seen a series of crimes committed by American servicemen or military-linked personnel.