A man has pleaded guilty to murdering a Japanese tourist whose body was found repeatedly stabbed below a waterfall at an Indian reservation...
PHOENIX — A man has pleaded guilty to murdering a Japanese tourist whose body was found repeatedly stabbed below a waterfall at an Indian reservation that lies partly within the Grand Canyon.
Randy Redtail Wescogame said he encountered the woman while she was hiking alone and offered to guide her to falls in the area last year. But he took her off the main trail, put a knife to her neck, demanded her valuables and then stabbed her several times before hiding her body, according an account of the attack read by the judge in court Tuesday.
Wescogame could be sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing Tomomi Hanamure, 34, of Tokyo, during a visit to the Havasupai Reservation, a separate jurisdiction from Grand Canyon National Park. It is a popular tourist destination in its own right, with blue-green waters pouring off falls before reaching the Colorado River. Sentencing has been set for Jan. 14.
Hanamure, who was traveling by herself, was reported missing May 9, 2006, a day after she went hiking to the Havasupai Falls after checking into a lodge on the remote reservation. Swimmers found her body four days later; an autopsy determined she had been stabbed 29 times.
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Wescogame, a 19-year-old member of the Havasupai Indian Tribe, was indicted on charges of first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping, but pleaded guilty only to a reduced charge of second-degree murder. The robbery charge alleged that he took money, credit cards, a camera and a cellphone.
Defense attorney Craig Orent declined to comment when asked after Tuesday’s hearing why Wescogome pleaded guilty.
“Randy, at least at this point, intends and wants to make a statement at time of sentencing,” Orent said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent Kerby said there was no indication that Wescogame targeted Hanamure because she was Japanese.
“I think this was just you can spot a tourist and he selected her,” Kerby said. “It was going to be sort of an easy target for him.”
According to information disclosed at a previous court hearing, Wescogame had an extensive juvenile criminal history and had been treated for addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Hanamure’s father, two other relatives and a friend traveled from Japan to attend Tuesday’s court hearing. They declined to comment.
An official with the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday. Japan’s honorary consul for Arizona said that the killing could be troubling to some potential visitors who consider the United States potentially dangerous.
“This would reinforce any preconceptions that people might have,” said the honorary consul, Kelly Sims Moeur, a Tempe school administrator.