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US sailor jailed for Japan murder

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A US sailor has been jailed for life for killing a Japanese taxi driver, in a case which strained relations.

Olatunbosun Ugbogu, 23, a Nigerian national, was sentenced in the Yokohama District Court.

He was convicted of killing Masaaki Takahashi, 61, who was found with stab wounds in his neck near a US base in Yokosuka, near Tokyo, in March 2008.

Ugbogu's lawyers had argued that he was insane at the time, but the judge ruled that he was fully competent.

Insanity plea

The trial began in December, and Ugbogu testified that he heard "voices" ordering him to kill the taxi driver, Kyodo reported.

Presiding Judge Masaaki Kawaguchi found Ugbogu fully competent, dismissing the defence plea for a not-guilty verdict based on insanity.

Prosecutors alleged that Ugbogu got into Takahashi's taxi in Tokyo on 19 March, 2008, and instructed him to drive to Yokosuka, about 60km (37 miles) southwest of the capital.

He failed to pay the fare and fatally stabbed Mr Takahashi with a knife, according to the prosecutors.

The defendant then fled from the scene of the crime.

Ugbogu had deserted the US Navy at Yokosuka base in early March last year.

At the time there was criticism of US authorities that they did not hand him over to Japanese officials fast enough.

Strained relations

But the US Navy said he was handed over as soon as they requested him.

The killing strained US-Japanese relations, prompting the US ambassador to apologise to the victim's family.

In the wake of the killing the US Navy introduced restrictions on its servicemen.

The sale of alcohol at its Yokosuka base was banned, and travel restrictions imposed, in an effort to placate the local population.

There are about 50,000 US military personnel in Japan, and the relationship with the local population is often uneasy.



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