Jury Calls for Death Penalty in Jailhouse Killing

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

Jurors recommended a death sentence Monday for a man who killed a fellow inmate in 2005 while he was awaiting trial for the slayings of two Marymount College students in the parking lot of a San Pedro supermarket.

Raymond Oscar Butler, 36, has already been sentenced to death for the March 25, 1994, shooting deaths of Takuma Ito, a Japanese citizen, and Go Matsuura, a U.S. citizen who grew up primarily in Japan — a crime that made headlines in both countries.

Go Matsuura and Takuma Ito (Photos courtesy of Marymount College)

The California Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence for the slayings of Ito and Matsuura in the parking lot of a Ralphs store in San Pedro. But the state’s highest court reversed his original conviction and death sentence for the March 26, 1995, jailhouse stabbing death of Tyrone Flemming, ruling that a judge had erroneously decided he could not act as his own attorney.

Butler did represent himself in the retrial of the Flemming case, but was unable to avoid the same outcome. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen is scheduled to sentence him on April 6.

In the penalty phase of trial, prosecutors introduced into evidence Butler’s convictions for murdering Ito and Matsuura — but omitted any reference to the prior death sentence.

Deputy District Attorney David Barkhurst told jurors that the evidence they heard during the guilt portion of the trial was “the tip of the iceberg.”

Butler has had a series of run-ins with fellow jail inmates, has had a number of weapons — including jail-made shanks — recovered from his cell and unleashed containers with feces and urine at prison guards who were bringing him library books or cleaning up trash, Barkhurst said.

“The death penalty is necessary in this case to adequately punish the defendant for the crimes he has committed,” the prosecutor said.

The jury’s other option was to recommend life in prison without the possibility of parole.

During the penalty phase, Butler called his mother, Donna Ray Butler, to the stand to testify on his behalf.

“You love me, correct?” Butler asked his mother.

“Yes, I do, very much,” she responded.

She said, “I stick behind my children. I love them unconditionally,” adding that he was “the apple of my eye” when he was born.

“Thank you, mother, I love you,” Butler said.

The murders of Ito and Matsuura stunned Japan and prompted expressions of regret from President Bill Clinton and Walter Mondale, then the U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Ito and Matsuura, both aspiring filmmakers, were shot once each in the back of the head.

Mari Kaneko, who had eaten dinner with the victims at a restaurant in Gardena, said they planned to meet up again in the Ralphs parking lot. Kaneko said she saw Ito walking toward her car when he was approached by a man wearing a hooded jacket who pushed Ito back toward his own car. She said she heard the words “shoot you” more than once and that a friend with her told her to drive toward the store entrance, where she screamed for help.

She said she heard gunshots and went outside the store to find her friends “lying on the ground.” She said it was “like (a) nightmare” for her friends to be killed.

Matsuura’s father, Dr. Shuji Matsuura, cried as he looked at photos of his son. He said he didn’t realize his son had been mortally wounded when he was notified about the shooting.

“We didn’t know, but we hoped,” he said, regarding his hope that his son would survive.

He said the Ito Matsuura Film Series was developed at Marymount College after the deaths of the two men “to remember them.”

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