Friends provided fugitive rape suspect with car, phone

KAWASAKI- Friends of the rape suspect who was recaptured Thursday after two days on the run provided him with a place to hide and lent him a car, investigators said Friday.

One friend allegedly told Yuta Sugi- moto, 20, to turn himself in, but he refused, saying he fled from the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office on Tuesday because he did not commit the rape, according to investigators.

Ultimately, it was a faint radio wave from a cell phone Sugimoto borrowed from a friend that informed police of his whereabouts after he slipped through the large-scale police dragnet. He was rearrested on suspicion of rape and other charges. The investigators said he denied part of the charges during questioning before his escape.

On Wednesday, the day after his escape, Kanagawa prefectural police obtained information that Sugimoto was using a friend's cell phone and was traveling in a vehicle. The police had been staking out his friends' moves, expecting the suspect, who dropped out of high school in Kawasaki, to be in touch with people he was close to during his middle school days.

According to investigators, an acquaintance ran into Sugimoto immediately after he fled from the prosecutors. He hopped on the acquaintance's scooter and went to a friend's house in Tama Ward, Kawasaki, about 15 kilometers away, where he changed clothes and left. Sugimoto's house is also in the same ward. It is believed that he then continued his flight to Yokosuka and elsewhere by car or other means.

On Wednesday evening, the police started to search for the license plate numbers of cars belonging to his friends and the number of the cell phone he had borrowed from the friend in Tama Ward. On Thursday morning, the police detected a faint radio wave from the cell phone being transmitted from Izumi Ward in Yokohama.

A large number of officers were deployed, and they found the car they were looking for in Seya Ward in the city. Two of Sugimoto's friends were inside. The police are questioning them on suspicion of aiding him.

An investigator who searched a sprawling forest on the south side of the Tokaido Shinkansen Line in Izumi Ward discovered a cave along the banks of the Izumi River, which is three meters wide in that area. When he went to look inside the cave, he sensed someone standing behind him. It was Sugimoto.

The time was 12:47 p.m. The investigator and the fugitive were only a few meters apart. When the investigator started to approach him, Sugimoto jumped into the river and sprinted upstream. A chase in the water ensued for about 20 meters, but Sugimoto soon found his path blocked by another investigator waiting ahead. He was trapped.

Sugimoto allegedly told the investigators that he would not run anymore and that he was tired. He was trembling in the cold water. When asked if he was Sugimoto, he nodded silently. He was wearing a gray jacket and a pair of brown trousers, but was barefoot.

70 per cent lack secure rooms

About 70 per cent of the branches of district public prosecutors offices do not have interview rooms equipped to prevent suspects from running away, according to the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office and other related parties.

In the recent incident in which a rape suspect escaped from the Kawasaki branch of the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office, the branch used an unsecure room because it does not have a formal interview room. According to the prosecutors office, only one police officer was in attendance when a prosecutor was interrogating the suspect.

The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office said all 50 headquarter buildings of district prosecutors offices across the nation have appropriate interview rooms. However, 144, or about 70 per cent of the 203 branch offices of district prosecutors offices, do not have such facilities.

According to the Kanagawa prefectural police, the interior of an interview room is divided by acrylic panels to prevent lawyers from being physically attacked by suspects. The room can be locked from the outside, and as there is no fear of suspects running from the room, police officers do not attend meetings between a lawyer and a suspect.

However, the lock on the room used at the Kawasaki branch to interrogate Yuta Sugimoto can be opened from the inside, and the interrogation was conducted with the door unlocked.

Only one police officer generally attends an interrogation, so as not to pressure a suspect and influence their comments. However, the Sagamihara branch of the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office makes it a rule to place one police officer inside and one outside of a room when it is used as an interview room with lawyers.

"It is impossible for the Kawasaki branch to always take such steps, as it deals with so many suspects," said an officer of the Detention Administration Department of the prefectural police.