Japanese Businessman Plotted With Hit Men to Kill Wife on California Vacation, Prosecutor Says

A Japanese businessman who was arrested on charges of murdering his wife in Los Angeles in the early 1980s orchestrated the crime and gave a final hand signal for the shooting to go ahead, according to the prosecutor.

The 1988 warrant for Kazuyoshi Miura, issued by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, alleges that he carried out a plot for his wife to be killed while on vacation in California so he could claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in life insurance.

The case inspired a 2004 episode of the NBC television series "Law & Order" entitled "Gaijin," which had a storyline in which a Japanese couple was shot and the wife was killed.

It also garnered extensive public attention in Japan, and remains one of the country's longest-running mysteries.

Miura, 60, was arrested Friday in Saipan in the U.S. commonwealth territory of the Northern Mariana Islands on the 1988 warrant. He remained in custody there Monday, awaiting extradition to California.

Miura and his 28-year-old wife, Kazumi, were shot in a downtown Los Angeles parking lot in November 1981. He was hit in the right leg. She was shot in the head and died in a Japanese hospital a year later.

Miura claimed the pair were gunned down by unknown robbers in a car.

The arrest warrant states: "Miura ... gave a hand signal to an unknown person to shoot Kazumi Miura in the head." The weapon was a .22-caliber firearm, the warrant states.

In 1994, Miura was convicted in Japan of murdering his wife, but that verdict was overturned by the country's high courts 10 years ago.

The shooting caused an international uproar, in part because he blamed the attack on robbers, which fed into the fears of many tourists who viewed Los Angeles as a dangerous city.

The cold-case detective investigating the shooting, Rick Jackson, said Monday a key piece of evidence could be witness statements that differ from what the prime suspect told police at the time.

Jackson said Miura told police at the time that a car pulled up and someone inside opened fire. But other witnesses in a high-rise building a block away also saw the attack.

"Their description of the vehicle was completely different from what Mr. Miura provided," Jackson said at a news conference crammed with dozens of reporters, many from Japanese media outlets.

The witnesses did not see the shooter, as their view was blocked by the car, he said.

Ira Reiner, who was district attorney from 1984-92, said Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives initially did not believe Miura was involved in his wife's killing, and thought he had been the victim of a vicious, but commonplace, street crime.

The case might well have been abandoned were it not for the actions of one investigator, Jimmy Sakoda, who headed the department's Asian crimes task force at the time, Reiner said. Sakoda was unable to convince the LAPD that Miura may have been involved in his wife's death, so he went to Reiner instead.

"Jimmy strongly believed to the contrary," said Reiner, 72, who now practices civil litigation. "When Jimmy bought it over to us, it was obvious that (Miura) was involved in her homicide."

The district attorney's office investigated the killing and worked with Japanese prosecutors, Reiner said.

Sakoda's phone number was not listed and he could not be reached for comment. He quit the LAPD in 1984 and joined the district attorney's office as an investigator.

Miura's lawyer, Shinichiro Hironaka, said he would formally urge the Japanese government not to help investigators.

"Given that this case has been closed in Japan," Hironaka said, "the Justice Ministry and Japanese police should no longer have to respond to requests from the police for evidence or to cooperate with the investigation."

The U.S. and most state constitutions prohibit double jeopardy — trying someone twice for the same crime. California legislators, however, passed a law in 2004 that allows someone tried in another country to stand trial here for the same crime. A defendant receives credit for time behind bars overseas — in this case 13 years for Miura.

Jackson said U.S. authorities had been made aware that Miura, a clothing importer, sometimes traveled to U.S. soil and were waiting for him to make another trip to a U.S. jurisdiction.

The complaint against Miura also alleges conspiracy, because he may have paid a third-party to carry out the shooting, Jackson said.

Jackson suggested the witness accounts would be important in the new prosecution.

"Everybody thinks cold cases are strictly DNA and fingerprint evidence run through the computer," Jackson said. "We also go back to cases where there was a focus on an individual before and now we have time to go back and re-interview people."

The warrant states that Miura conspired with Michiko Yazawa and another person to carry out the killing. Yazawa, an actress, was a former girlfriend of Miura. According to the document, Yazawa first attacked Kazumi Miura on Aug. 13, 1981, with a hammer in a hotel.

Miura was arrested in Japan in 1985 on suspicion of assaulting his wife in the hotel incident and was convicted of attempted murder. While serving a six-year sentence he was charged under Japanese law in 1988 with his wife's murder.

Miura was convicted of that charge in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison. Four years later, a Japanese court overturned the sentence.

Legal experts said the amount of time that has passed may benefit Miura's defense.

"Witness memories don't get better over time," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who is now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "Time is usually on the defendant's side, but not always."