The Missing Witness And The Rejected Plea

Imagine if you went on vacation to some far off, wonderful place, where magnificent waterfalls flowed. And someone, realizing that you were not from around there, assaulted and robbed you.  A horrible experience, a terrible crime, but one that occurred far from home. In this case, Buffalo, New York. Okay, so the place isn’t exactly wonderful, but it does have great waterfalls.  This happened to Japanese tourist, Koyuki Nakahara.

Nakahara arrived in Niagara Falls on the afternoon of Dec. 25 with a 20-member tour group that traveled by bus from Washington, D.C., where they had visited the White House.

At about 11 p.m. Christmas night, she said she decided to make the most of her limited time here and left her hotel room to walk across the Rainbow Bridge to view the falls from the Canadian side.

Though the tour guide said the bridge plaza was nearby, she soon became lost. Spotting a man walking nearby, she asked him if he could point her in the right direction. What she did not know at the time was that he had driven past her a couple times, before parking and following her on foot.

One of the problems that arise in tourist towns is the targeting of foreigners. They’re easy marks, and, crime notwithstanding, go home afterward. 

He suddenly pushed my face into the concrete. I screamed and he began to grab my purse from me.”

They struggled.

“He stood up and I stood up. I said, ‘You can have the money, but give me my passport back.’ I thought if he gives me my passport back, I won’t bother with the police. I told him that. I was trying to bargain.”

It did not work.

When the crime is mostly about money, the theft becomes a negotiation. The tourist goes home, terrified but alive, and a little poorer. Maybe they won’t report the crime and just eat the loss. Even if they do report the crime, what are the chances they will come back to testify against the perpetrator?  It’s a pretty good bet that they won’t, and a bet that happens all too often in tourist towns.

Nakahara, however, came back.

Using surveillance camera tapes, State Park Police later tracked down Robert E. Macleod and charged him with robbery and assault. Prosecutors offered him a plea deal.

But when Macleod found out that the victim was in Japan, he turned down the deal.

This completes the anticipated narrative, the scheme of locals knocking over tourists in anticipation of their not being there to bear witness against the criminal.

She will never return, he thought, according to police. And with no victim testimony, no charge would stick.

He was wrong.

No, the Buffalo police do not have magic mind-reading abilities.  That Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel wrote such tripe is not just surprising and insulting, but ridiculously prejudicial.  The police can speculate as to Macleod’s motive in rejecting a plea offer, based upon the scheme often employed against tourists, but to report it as if there is any truth to their speculation is nuts. The cops have no clue what Macleod was thinking, and Michel has no clue how to report a story when he writes something so foolish.

Macleod was identified through surveillance video. Was it a great image? A terrible image? Was he one of the “usual suspects” or did they nail him dead to rights? Beats me.

Nakahara testified in the grand jury to what happened to her, a weird shoe fetishist sort of crime, where she bargained over letting the robber take her money if he would only leave her passport.  Maybe she is absolutely truthful, or maybe not. That she returned from Japan to testify suggests that she was, indeed, the victim of a crime, as someone who fabricated a story, one might suppose, wouldn’t come back to double down. So is it all true? Beats me.

But none of this justifies convicting Macleod in the funny pages, by imputing thoughts to him that no one can possibly know.  Maybe Macleod rejected the plea offer because he didn’t commit the crime. That happens, you know.

With a physical image of the man and his vehicle, police expanded their search and located even better video showing the man at an area gasoline station. Police were then able to track down the 44-year-old Macleod of Niagara Falls and place him under arrest.

Police recovered her passport and her shoes. With that evidence and the videos, they had enough to charge him with robbery and assault. Prosecutors offered a plea agreement.

But when he learned that Nakahara was back in Japan, he gambled that she would not return to Niagara Falls. He refused a plea deal on lesser charges, authorities said.

A man at a gas station isn’t exactly conclusive proof that Macleod was the attacker. Had they recovered Nakahara’s passport and shoes from Macleod’s trunk, for example, that would strengthen the argument, but the story offers no information about where the items were recovered.

Nakahara went to the Park Police station, but she said she was overcome by embarrassment and could not bring herself to tell the male officers that not only had she been robbed, but sexually assaulted.

Later, though, as the shock dissipated, she confided everything that had happened to one of the officers who had taken her to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center for a brain scan and treatment of abrasions to her face.

The sexual assault information was added to the robbery report.

After doctors determined she had suffered no serious injuries, Nakahara returned to her hotel room at 7 a.m. Dec. 26. With no money or friends to turn to, she said she continued on the tour with its next stop in Boston.

While the story seeks to excuse Nakahara for lying to the police about what happened at first, the fact remains that she did. Maybe she was embarrassed, or maybe she decided to up the ante. But her having told two different stories to the police raises issues for her testimony, excuses notwithstanding.

The narrative of crimes against tourists, exploiting the likelihood that they will not return to testify against the perp, is a particularly nefarious one. If this happened, it’s really a disgusting crime on many levels.  But before anyone builds a statue for Nakahara, or a cell for Macleod, why not hold a trial so that the system has the opportunity to ascertain whether her story is true and Macleod was the culprit?

Maybe the cops don’t have mad mind-reading skillz to enable them to know that Macleod rejected the plea because he was a particularly nasty dude. Maybe, despite all the warmth and fuzziness of Michel’s story of the brave Japanese tourist who wouldn’t let the perp get away with it, he just didn’t do it.  That happens sometimes too.

H/T Katherine Casey

5 thoughts on “The Missing Witness And The Rejected Plea

  1. Kathleen Casey

    Prejudicial is right. The only detail missing is McLeod’s record of arrests. Oh, and convictions. This had to have been written too fast.

    An indictment is not even filed, much less a conviction entered.

    Thank you for the sane issue-spotting.

    1. Patrick Maupin

      You guys are too hard on the reporter. Lou’s just trying to apply the lessons he learned from here the last couple of days about how, in some cases, too much emphasis is placed on the whole guilt/innocence thing.

  2. marc r

    1. when Macleod found out that the victim was in Japan, he turned down the deal. *Chronologically verifiable

    2. She will never return, he thought, according to police. * translation Police thought she will never return and believe that is the reason the plea was turned down. Nobody for the accused responded to this assumption. And this is why step 3 below is unrelated to 2 and possibly related to 1.

    3. And with no victim testimony, no charge would stick. *Legal hypothesis that may or may not be true subject to the jury.

  3. Ben Sessions

    Where is the corollary story recounting how a “Macleod” entered a guilty plea based upon a particularly gruesome post-trial sentencing threat?

    The sensational writing is ridiculous, but even if Macleod was motivated in this way to reject the plea, what’s wrong with it?

    1. SHG Post author

      Most people grasp that a story/fact pattern raises certain issues and not others. Then there are people who fail to grasp this and ask ridiculous questions. It’s very sad when this happens. There are other posts that address people being coerced into pleading guilty despite innocence. This post isn’t one of them. So the answer to your “where” question is there are plenty of posts on the issue. This just isn’t one of them.

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