HAGATNA, Guam — Nearly 170 people are expected to testify in the murder trial of a 22-year-old man charged with killing three Japanese tourists and hurting 11 others during a rampage in a busy tourist area last year, prosecutors and defense lawyers say.
Jury selection began this week in the trial of Chad Ryan DeSoto. Authorities said DeSoto barreled his car down a sidewalk, crashed into a convenience store, then got out and stabbed bystanders — including two infants — during the Feb. 12 rampage that shocked the island U.S. territory. The three tourists killed were Kazuko Uehara, 81, and Rie Sugiyama, 29, who were stabbed to death. Hitoshi Yokota, 51, was hit by a car and died in a hospital two days later.
Opening statements are scheduled for Monday.
DeSoto has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness, disease or effect to charges of aggravated murder and attempted murder. He has been evaluated by two forensic psychiatrists, but the evaluations were sealed. If convicted, DeSoto faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The case has drawn international attention, with some raising questions about tourist safety in the U.S. territory after the rampage and media outlets in Asia showing significant interest.
Judiciary spokesman Joshua Tenorio said the trial will last more than a month, with an influx of foreign media packed with members of the public and 18 jurors in a courtroom with 40 seats.
It’s not a typical case, Tenorio said.
“There’s a lot of public interest in it because of the nature of the crime that occurred. Also (because of) all the potential impacts this may have on perceptions of Guam,” he said. “For us, our mission in the court system is that justice is given in a fair and timely manner.”
Guam is a popular destination for Japanese tourists, with flights from Tokyo taking about 3½ hours. Guam gets about 200 flights from Japan weekly, Guam Visitors Bureau spokesman Josh Tyquiengco said. Last year, Guam had 1.3 million visitors total, and industry experts expect arrivals to grow this year.
The bureau, the territory’s main agency that promotes tourism, is paying for the transportation and lodging of some witnesses from Japan and Australia at the request of Guam’s attorney general.
“I think (tourism) being the number one industry on Guam, everyone has a stake in tourism and making sure that we don’t have this perception that we’re saying we’re safe but we’re really not,” said Antonio Muna Jr., who manages Guam’s tourism website and was the Visitors Bureau spokesman when the incident happened. “I believe 100 percent Guam is safe. It’s incidents like these that we try to mitigate, and we try to show people that Guam is safe.”