updated 9/26/2008 7:04:41 PM ET 2008-09-26T23:04:41

A Japanese businessman cannot be tried for murder in the 1981 shooting death of his wife, but said prosecutors may proceed with a charge of conspiracy to commit murder, a judge ruled Friday.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Steven Van Sicklen ruled on motions concerning Kazuyoshi Miura, who is under arrest in the U.S. territory of Saipan.

The judge ruled against the murder element of the case on grounds of double jeopardy. Miura had been tried in Japan and convicted of murder, but that verdict was ultimately overturned.

"Although the murder charge is barred by double jeopardy, the state may proceed on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder because there is no evidence that Miura was previously acquitted or convicted of the same offense in Japan," Van Sicklen said in his ruling.

Miura could face a sentence of 25 years to life in prison if convicted of conspiracy.

The dismissed murder count had contained a so-called special circumstance of lying in wait for financial gain, which could have led to the death penalty.

"The American expression is the judge cut the baby in half," defense attorney Mark Geragos told a throng of Japanese reporters outside the courtroom in a Los Angeles suburb.

The ruling was made in response to arguments by Geragos that because of the trial in Japan his client was protected from a second murder prosecution by California's double jeopardy laws. The prosecution argued that double jeopardy did not apply.

Shot to the head
Miura is alleged to have plotted to have his wife slain during a visit the couple made to Los Angeles in 1981. They were shot by someone in a car as they stood taking photos by a downtown parking lot.

Miura was hit in the leg, and his wife, Kazumi Miura, 28, was shot in the head. She died of her wounds a year later in Japan.

Miura underwent a convoluted legal odyssey in Japan that saw him convicted there of his wife's murder, only for that verdict to be overturned in 1998 by the country's high courts.

The case resurfaced in February when Miura made a trip to Saipan, where he was arrested on an outstanding 1988 warrant.

Miura's extradition to California had appeared to be ready to go ahead, but a judge in the Northern Mariana Islands Supreme Court ordered a stay Sept. 15, hours before a team of agents from the Los Angeles Police Department was due to pick him up.

A hearing on extradition is scheduled in Saipan on Monday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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