A young U.S. Navy sailor has been handed over to Japanese custody for allegedly robbing and killing a Japanese woman - a case that threatens to inflame the Japanese public just as Washington and Tokyo are seeking public support for a realignment of U.S. forces in the country.
A 21-year-old U.S. sailor is in Japanese police custody on charges of robbing and murdering a Japanese woman. He was turned over by the U.S. Navy after a warrant for his arrest was presented by the Japanese on Saturday.
Commander John Wallach, a spokesman at the U.S. Naval base at Yokosuka, says the sailor was taken into Japanese custody early Saturday evening, local time.
"He has been handed over," Commander Wallach said. "He was delivered to the Japanese police station in Yokosuka. It's our responsibility to assist as we can to ensure that this case is brought to its rightful conclusion and this remains a cooperative ongoing investigation and we will assist in any way possible."
U.S. Navy officials have only identified the sailor as a 21-year-old Navy (E-3) airman assigned to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. But Japanese police named him as William Oliver Reese, and say he has "basically confessed" to killing 56-year-old Yoshie Sato. Ms. Sato was found beaten and unconscious near a building in Yokosuka on January 3, after apparently being robbed.
The bilateral agreement concerning the status of American troops in Japan does not require U.S. forces to hand over suspects to Japanese authorities before indictments have been issued. But since 1995, the United States has agreed to consider turning over suspects accused of serious crimes before indictment. That change was made following a public uproar after a 12-year-old girl was raped the same year by three U.S. servicemen on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
Commander Wallach says this case met the revised criteria.
"This was absolutely the right thing to do," he said. "I think it's symbolic of the relationship that we have between our two countries. It's indicative of the cooperation that has been the hallmark of this investigation since it began."
The commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Japan, Rear Admiral James Kelly, has apologized for the death, and ordered a four-day midnight curfew for all U.S. Navy personnel in the country.
Japanese and U.S. officials are trying to win support to base, for the first time, an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Yokosuka. They also want to build a new military airstrip on Okinawa, and to transfer hundreds of Army troops from the United States to a small base outside Tokyo.
Some 50,000 U.S. military personnel are currently stationed in Japan.