Rafu Staff Report
SACRAMENTO — Family, neighbors and observers have expressed disbelief and concern over the case of Masaharu Ono, 89, who was arraigned June 9 on a charge of murdering his 83-year-old wife.
Ono, who lives in a mobile home in south Sacramento, was arrested on June 5. Steve Janssen, the mobile park manager, told The Sacramento Bee that Ono tried to call 911 to report finding his wife’s body, but his phone wasn’t working, so he went to the management office and Janssen called 911.
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department became involved after coroner’s officials concluded that cuts to Mrs. Ono’s body were not consistent with a natural death. The department said that the injuries were “suspicious in nature” and that Mr. Ono was “ultimately responsible for the murder.”
Mr. Ono, who will turn 90 at the end of the month, is being held without bail in a cell on the medical floor of the county jail.
The Onos, who are originally from Japan, have lived in Sacramento for several years and previously lived in the Bay Area. They have no children and no relatives in the U.S.
Yuki Maruyama, Hiroko Ono’s niece and a resident of Kanagawa Prefecture, told The Bee in a phone interview that her uncle is “never violent” and “very gentle,” and that it’s doubtful he was physically capable of committing such an act given his poor health.
Maruyama said she believes that her aunt’s death was some kind of accident but that her uncle was not responsible.
Residents of the mobile park told local news media that the Onos were a nice couple who were never heard arguing, and that both were struggling with health issues, including dementia.
Former Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), a longtime advocate for the elderly, attended the arraignment at Sacramento Superior Court before Judge Patrick Marlette. Among the dozens of defendants scheduled to appear, she said, “Masaharu Ono struck a singularly frail and tragic figure as he was led through the jailhouse doors into the courtroom holding cell. At 5’2″, it was difficult to see him, and he was barely audible as the judge asked questions as a Japanese interpreter quickly translated in tandem.
“When asked if he could afford legal counsel, Ono uttered, ‘No,’ and was appointed a Sacramento County public defender, John S. Perkins, who asked for and was granted a continuance to Friday, June 19. for time to discuss the case with prosecutors and gather more evidence.”
Yamada, who did not know the Onos, explained her interest in the case. “Right now, there are many unanswered questions in this sad and shocking case. The issues are complex, involving aging and possible dementia; isolation and lack of family; and language and cultural barriers.
“Although I know little about him, having served for six years as a member and chair of the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care, and as a Japanese American, Mr. Ono’s case is one that I feel particularly compelled to follow in the weeks and months to come.
“Whether or not he is found guilty, I believe it important to monitor his situation. As our society continues to age rapidly, the social policy implications about how the elderly are handled in our criminal justice system must be addressed.”
Perkins told The Bee, “His memory, thought recognition – he’s disoriented. It’s a really sad case.”