HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The first Japanese national to be extradited to the United States and convicted of murder asked the Hawaii Paroling Authority Monday to get out of prison halfway through his original sentence of 40 years behind bars.
"I no like you think that I'm the non-responsibility guy," said Raita Fukusaku, 47, addressing three parole board members Monday via video conference from Saguaro Prison in Arizona, where he is serving two back-to-back 20-year sentences.
In 1995, he was convicted of killing famous Japanese fortune teller Kototome Fujita and her son, Goro when prosecutors said his attempts to extort $20,000 from Mrs. Fujita failed.
The case made headlines in Hawaii and Japan because it involved a famous fortune teller whose clients included four Japanese prime ministers, business leaders and organized crime figures.
"I didn't kill my friend and his mother," Fukusaku told the parole board members.
Fukusaku and his lawyers said he wasn't the murderer, but was coerced into helping cover-up the killings because he was under pressure from Japanese underworld figures in the Yakuza.
"What I did is I didn't stop them and I couldn't save them. Is my responsibility, them, is my mistake of my whole life. Every single day I think about them," Fukusaku said Monday. Fukusaku did not say who coerced him.
The Hawaii state jury found him guilty of murder in 1995 without deciding whether he was the principal killer or an accomplice.
"The record was not clear as to what the jury determined. The jury could not and was not presented with the ultimate question of whether Mr. Fukusaku shot anyone through the heart," said Gary Modafferi, one of Fukusaku's two defense attorneys. Modafferi traveled from Las Vegas where he is a trial attorney specializing in criminal defense.
Both victims were shot. Kototome Fujita's penthouse apartment across from Ala Moana Center was burned and firefighters removed her body from her burning unit. Goro Fuijta's body was found in his burning car along Kapahulu Avenue.
Senior Deputy City Prosecutor Darrell Wong said, "You know, under the law, whether you're a principal or you're an accomplice, you're equally guilty and you get the same sentence."
"Whether Mr. Fukusaku was the actual shooter or was just a party to it, the crime is still equally heinous, equally callous and shows a disregard on his part," Wong added.
Wong said Fukusaku's minimum sentence should remain at 40 years, 20 years for each murder count. He asked the parole board to increase his term to 60 to 80 years behind bars. But that would conflict with an agreement between the Hawaii Paroling Authority and Fukusaku to grant him a new minimum sentencing hearing and agree not to increase his minimum sentence to more than 20 years for each count. The agreement settled a petition Fukusaku's attorneys filed in 2007, saying an increased 50-year minimum term was "arbitrary and capricious."
The convict's lawyers said he's been a "model prisoner" with no write ups for incidents behind bars.
"In the 20 years that he's been there, he's been the ideal, model inmate," said Modafferi. "Is that the psycho-pathic person who would go through, kill an old woman and then kill her son for an aborted $20,000 extortion?"
And while most murder victims' families submit testimony for tough sentences, the brother of Kototome Fujita, Yozo Fuijta, has written letter after letter to Japanese and United States officials asking for Fukusaku to be released.
"He believes that Raita Fukusaku was falsely convicted. That he was the fall guy for what he considers organized crime elements that executed his sister and his nephew," said Myles Breiner, Fukusaku's other defense attorney.
"We're not going to re-try the case here," said Bert Matsuoka, chairman of the Hawaii Paroling Authority.
Breiner and Modafferi asked the parole board to lower Fukusaku's minimum terms to 10 years per count, for a total of 20 years, which he has nearly served already. That would make him eligible for parole and deportation to his native Japan.
The board is expected to announce its decision within about two weeks.