Japanese Businessman Accused in Wife's Death Found Dead

A Japanese businessman charged with plotting the murder of his wife in Los Angeles 27 years ago hanged himself with his shirt in a downtown jail cell only hours after arriving to face trial, police said Saturday.

Kazuyoshi Miura, 61, was alone in his cell at downtown police headquarters when a detention officer found him at 9:45 p.m. Friday — just 10 minutes after a routine cell inspection had found nothing unusual, Chief of Detectives Charlie Beck said at a news conference Saturday.

"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," Beck said.

Officers rushed into the cell and gave Miura cardiopulmonary resuscitation while medical personnel from the dispensary were summoned. Miura did not respond to treatment and was pronounced dead at USC Medical Center, Beck said.

Miura had arrived in Los Angeles early Friday morning after a trip from the U.S. commonwealth of Saipan, where he had been held since his February arrest on a 1988 Los Angeles County warrant alleging murder and conspiracy.

He was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday.

"I'm shocked," Miura's attorney, Mark Geragos, told The Associated Press in a telephone call from Italy. "One of my lawyers was with him for 12 hours yesterday, and he seemed in good spirits. He was looking forward to fighting this."

Beck declined to answer questions about the motive for the apparent suicide and what the death means to investigators, who had pursued Miura for decades. He said that both he and Detective Rick Jackson, who was on the plane that returned Miura to the United States, were "shocked and disappointed."

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

Miura was accused of plotting to have his wife killed during a visit the couple made to Los Angeles in 1981. Miura was hit in the leg, and his wife, Kazumi Miura, was shot in the head. She died of her wounds a year later in Japan.

Los Angeles County prosecutors contended Miura wanted his wife dead so he could collect about $750,000 on her life insurance policies. They argued that he signaled someone to shoot the couple, although no one else has been charged.

Beck said Miura showed no signs of distress when he arrived at the LAPD's Parker Center before 6 a.m. Friday, where he was photographed and printed while being booked. Miura was not on suicide watch, and authorities had no reason to think he was suicidal, Beck said.

"He was extremely cooperative on the trip over (from Saipan). There were no problems," Beck said. "He had visitors from the (Japanese) consul and met with his attorneys."

Masara Dekiba, the consul general of Japan in California, was also stunned by the suicide. Dekiba spent 15 minutes with him Friday morning and said he looked fine.

Miura asked for his help in making an international telephone call to his wife and wanted the consul to make arrangements for special meals because he was allergic to fried food, Dekiba said.

"Why Mr. Miura killed himself I do not know," Dekiba said.

Dekiba said he called the family personally to inform them of Miura's death. Family members planned to fly to Los Angeles to claim the body and take it back to Tokyo once investigations into the death are completed, a process that could take weeks, Dekiba said.

After the 1988 arrest warrant was issued, prosecutors in Los Angeles decided to work with Japanese authorities instead of trying to have him extradited. He was convicted of murder in Japan in 1994, but the verdict ultimately was overturned and Japan's highest court issued an acquittal.

On Thursday, Los Angeles County prosecutors filed court papers seeking reinstatement of the murder charge. The motion argued that the law did not recognize convictions or acquittals outside the United States.

However, Superior Court Judge Steven Van Sicklen ruled that trying Miura for murder in California would violate a law against double jeopardy.

Miura had fought extradition but agreed to return to Los Angeles after the murder charge was dismissed. Conviction on the conspiracy charge could have resulted in 25 years to life in state prison.

The case remains a huge story in Japan, where the media has for decades reported its every twist and turn.