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American Rape Suspects Seek Leniency, Blame One Another for Crime

January 29, 1996

NAHA, Okinawa (AP) _ Facing prosecutors’ demands of 10 years in prison for three U.S. servicemen charged with raping a 12-year-old girl, one of the defendants on Monday said God had forgiven him and hoped the court would, too.

In closing arguments, prosecutors read a statement from the 12-year-old victim’s father asking for the harshest possible sentences for the rape, which has galvanized opposition to the American military presence on this small Japanese island.

``Please keep these criminals in prison until they die _ please,″ the father wrote. ``I wish I could kill them.″

Defense lawyers argued the sentences requested by prosecutors would be unusually severe. But chief prosecutor Masayuki Nomura painted the case as an affront not only to Okinawans but to the country as a whole.

``The acts of these men can be seen as a challenge for Japan in general to maintain peace and order,″ Nomura said.

Marine Pfc. Rodrico Harp of Griffin, Ga., and Pfc. Kendrick Ledet of Waycross, Ga., have admitted to helping abduct the girl and beating and binding her with duct tape while Navy Seaman Marcus Gill of Woodville, Texas, drove them all to a remote road.

Gill testified that they all three raped her there, tearing the tape off her eyes and mouth after she lapsed into unconsciousness. But Harp and Ledet say Gill bullied them into helping with the abduction, and say they only pretended to rape the girl, fearing Gill’s anger if they didn’t.

A verdict by the three-judge panel _ there are no jury trials in Japan _ is due March 7. In Japan, 99 percent of criminal cases that come to trial result in convictions, and sentencing could immediately follow a guilty verdict.

Ledet crossed himself before he gave his final statement.

``My Lord knows every move that I made ... and He has forgiven me,″ said the 20-year-old Marine. ``Now I ask the court to forgive me.″

``I am not an evil person. I have made a mistake in life,″ Gill, 22, told the chief judge. ``I hope God is as merciful with you on our final judgment day, Your Honor, as you will be with me.″

The judges became visibly impatient during the rambling statements by Gill and Ledet, in which they sought to incriminate one another.

``This was not my idea, and if the the other accused was not there, this would never have happened,″ Ledet said, referring to Gill. Harp echoed him, saying: ``I’m not the type of person who would think up doing something like this.″

Defense lawyers did not suggest specific prison terms. The three, all charged with confinement and rape causing injury, face a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum of life in prison.

Harp’s lawyer Mitsunobu Matsunaga said he expected sentences for all three defendants of six- to seven years if convicted. No Japanese court has ever imposed a sentence of more than 10 years for similar charges.

The servicemen’s lawyers asked the judges not to let public anger and opposition to the U.S. military influence their ruling. Ledet’s mother lost a Supreme Court appeal last week to try to get the trial moved off Okinawa.

In his summation, chief prosecutor Nomura repeatedly referred to the calculated stalking of the girl as she shopped for school supplies in a quiet neighborhood, and to the brutality of the assault itself.

The three servicemen agreed to pay compensation to the girl and her family, but lawyer Matsunaga said the girl’s father refused the second installment of what was to have been a $15,000 payment because the accused could cite the payment in pleading for leniency.

Okinawa hosts two-thirds of the 47,000 American troops in Japan. How many should stay in the strategically key area has become a political headache for the government, which supports the longstanding security relationship with the United States but cannot ignore the public outcry over the rape case.

The issue is expected to top the agenda when President Clinton makes a state visit in April.

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