PHOENIX (Map, News) - A man convicted of killing a Japanese tourist in the Grand Canyon was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Randy Redtail Wescogame, 20, received a heavier sentence than the recommended 20 years because of the brutality of the attack, U.S. District Judge Mary H. Murguia said.
The victim, Tomomi Hanamure, "was trying to take in the beauty of the Grand Canyon, and what she encountered was the ugliest part of human society," Murguia told Wescogame in court.
According to court documents, Wescogame approached Hanamure on May 8, 2006, while the 34-year-old was traveling by herself in the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Wescogame, a Havasupai Indian, offered to take Hanamure to 50 Foot Falls, one of many lush areas in the canyon where blue-green waters rush off cliff sides before reaching the Colorado River.
Wescogame then put a knife to her neck and demanded money. He stabbed her repeatedly and then dragged her body to the river and covered it with weeds.
Four days later, swimmers found her body; an autopsy determined she had been stabbed 29 times.
During the hearing, Wescogame sat with his head bowed, his wrists shackled to a waist chain. He did not look at Hanamure's father and other family members who came to Phoenix to see him sentenced.
"I think of the family very often, everyday," he whispered to an interpreter in his native Havasupai language. Wescogame was 18 when he attacked Hanamure. He has had problems with drugs, alcohol, and his criminal history filled six sheets of his pre-sentence report.
Seven months after the attack, authorities indicted Wescogame on federal murder, robbery and kidnapping charges. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The remaining charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal.
The sentencing guidelines called for 210 to 262 months in prison, but Murguia decided to give him life in prison. Defense lawyers also asked that he be allowed to participate in a rehabilitation program for drug and alcohol abuse.
Hanamure's father, Tetsushi, stared at Wescogame throughout the hearing. When it was his turn to speak, he bowed to the judge and spoke through a Japanese interpreter as Tomomi's aunt held up a poster-sized picture of her.
"Her life was taken by someone on this soil, far from home," Tetsushi said in a soft voice that quivered with emotion. "If only I could be there to take her place."
He told the court how his daughter came to America to learn English, and how she fell in love with the country. He said he's going to retire soon, and his hope was that Tomomi would take care of him as he gets older.
"Does he understand the loss his insignificant material desire has caused?"
Murguia told Tetsushi that she had trouble explaining how this could have happened. Wescogame, she said, dishonored his tribe and his country.
"On behalf of the United States, I apologize," the judge said.
Outside the courtroom, U.S. Attorney Diane J. Humetewa said that, although tragic, the stabbing was an aberration and that murders are almost unheard of in the remote community of several hundred in northwestern Arizona.
Humetewa said she's spoken to Havasupai members about the case. "They quite frankly are in shock," she said. "If you visit, you'll see people who are quietly existing with their environment."
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