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Japanese Mom Struggles With Loss in U.S.

June 8, 2003

COLUMBIA, Md. (AP) _ After her husband murdered their two daughters, some people expected Naoko Nakajima to move back to Japan, where she was born and raised, where she has family, where she speaks the language.

In a note that Robert Filippi wrote the night he strangled 4-year-old Nicole Erika Filippi and 2-year-old Lindsey Ayaka Filippi, he told Nakajima: ``You can go home now.″

Instead, she has stayed, determined to build a new life _ learning English, making new friends and starting a small business.

``I won’t leave now,″ Nakajima, 30, said in an interview with The Associated Press conducted in Japanese. ``It would look like I was running away _ like he made me run away.″

She says there’s another reason she stays in the community about 15 miles southwest of Baltimore: She is urging prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty for Filippi.

``It’s a form of revenge,″ she says. ``He wants to die.″

Filippi tried to commit suicide after the killings and repeatedly said he wanted to be executed.

``But I want him to live every day in prison with the pain of what he did,″ Nakajima says. ``I sometimes think of him killing the girls, what they must have been feeling. I shouldn’t be the only one feeling this pain. He should be miserable, too.″

After initially filing an insanity plea, Filippi changed his plea May 12 to guilty on two counts of murder. He will serve two consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole.

On Monday, the first anniversary of the murders, Nakajima planned to attend a memorial service at the girls’ former day care center.

``I can’t forget my children or my love for them or this tragedy,″ she says. ``But I feel like my life has begun again. He wanted to make me as miserable as possible, but I have to start a new life _ one without someone else controlling it.″

Filippi, who was born in America, was obsessed with control even before they were married in 1996 in Tokyo, where he worked as a banker, Nakajima says.

She says he once smashed a new video camera when he couldn’t figure out how to program it, and spit in her face when she wouldn’t turn down the volume on a television.

She loved him and hoped things would get better, but instead they got worse.

When Nakajima moved out in February 2002, Filippi began filling his computer journal with a torrent of racist invective directed at her.

``I hate the woman to no end, and I want to hurt her in the most unforgettable way imaginable,″ Filippi wrote on April 26, 2002. ``I dream every night of strangling the girls, then killing myself and purposely not leaving a note for her.″

``I hope that if I do this task she will live in pain every day of her life and live to be 100-years-old, so that her days are filled with pain and sadness,″ he wrote.

Nakajima says a shared custody order prevented her from returning to Japan with her daughters. Besides, Filippi had the girls’ passports.

On June 9, 2002, a Sunday, Nakajima dropped the girls off at Filippi’s house. Under a court agreement, he had custody of the children for the next few days.

Lindsey and Nicole played with the children of next-door neighbor Bradley Arnold while Filippi cooked hot dogs and fries.

``It was absolutely the same as any other weekend in the year,″ Arnold says.

Filippi put the girls to bed, but they told him they wanted to watch TV. Filippi called Nakajima, furious the girls had apparently watched TV at her apartment, according to court documents.

Later, Filippi called his sister. Around midnight, police found him sitting at his kitchen table, smoking a cigarette and crying. Upstairs, the girls lay on a bed, white rope wound tightly around their necks.

Authorities say Filippi had rope marks on his neck and told them he had tried to kill himself.

Arnold say he has talked with Filippi several times since then.

``It is a completely different man that I see now than the one I knew before the murders,″ Arnold says. ``I believe he’s very remorseful about the loss of his children _ more than he can handle.″

Filippi wasn’t allowed to respond to interview requests. His lawyer, James Kraft, declined to comment or pass along a reporter’s request to interview Filippi.

Filippi has recently tried to call Nakajima, she says, but she doesn’t return his messages.

She avoids most of her old friends and neighbors, and Filippi’s relatives, because the conversations tend to revolve around the still-painful subject of her daughters.

``You never really get over something this horrible,″ says Bruce Kernan, 47, a friend and partner in her novelty business. ``But she’s holding on to her good memories of the girls, and this is where those memories are.″

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