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TORRANCE, Calif. (AP) — A Japanese businessman cannot be tried for murder in the 1981 shooting death of his wife, but prosecutors may proceed with a charge of conspiracy to commit murder, a judge ruled Friday.
The ruling in the case of Kazuyoshi Miura by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Steven Van Sicklen came after he considered a defense motion to quash the man's arrest warrant. Miura, 61, is in custody in the U.S. territory of Saipan.
The judge ruled against the murder element of the case because Miura had already been convicted in Japan of his wife's murder — a verdict that was ultimately overturned. California double-jeopardy rules prohibit someone being tried twice for the same crime.
But Van Sicklen found that Miura had never been tried for conspiracy.
"Although the murder charge is barred by double jeopardy, the state may proceed on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder because there is no evidence that Miura was previously acquitted or convicted of the same offense in Japan," Van Sicklen said in his ruling.
Miura could face a sentence of 25 years to life in prison if convicted of conspiracy.
The ruling marks a partial victory for Miura because the dismissed murder count had contained a so-called special circumstance of lying in wait for financial gain, which could have led to the death penalty.
"The American expression is the judge cut the baby in half," defense attorney Mark Geragos told a throng of Japanese reporters outside the courtroom in a Los Angeles suburb.
Miura is alleged to have plotted to have his wife slain during a visit the couple made to Los Angeles in 1981. They were shot by someone in a car as they stood taking photos by a downtown parking lot. Prosecutors have said Miura wanted his wife dead so he could collect on her life insurance policies.
Miura was hit in the leg, and his wife, Kazumi Miura, 28, was shot in the head. She died of her wounds a year later in Japan.
The case has attracted extensive media attention in Japan, and reporters grilled attorneys and a district attorney's spokeswoman about several possible permutations of the case.
Prosecutors had argued that double-jeopardy laws do not apply because California legislators in 2004 passed a law allowing someone tried in another country to stand trial here for the same crime.
Geragos said his next step would be to focus on showing that Miura had already been acquitted of a conspiracy charge in Japan.
"It's my belief based on the evidence that's already in the record ... that he was acquitted on the conspiracy theory," Geragos said.
Miura underwent a convoluted legal odyssey in Japan that saw him convicted there of his wife's murder, only for that verdict to be overturned in 1998 by the country's high courts.
The case resurfaced in February when Miura made a trip to Saipan, where he was arrested on an outstanding 1988 warrant.
Miura's extradition to California had appeared to be ready to go ahead, but a judge in the Northern Mariana Islands Supreme Court ordered a stay Sept. 15, hours before a team of agents from the Los Angeles Police Department was due to pick him up.
A hearing on extradition is scheduled in Saipan on Monday.
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