Three U.S. Servicemen Given Tough Sentences in Rape of Okinawan Girl
NAHA, Okinawa (AP) _ Three U.S. servicemen were given tough sentences today after being convicted of raping a 12-year-old Okinawa girl in a case that caused support for American troops in Japan to fall to one of its lowest points since World War II.
The verdict by a panel of three judges at the Naha District Court followed six months of unprecedented protests against the U.S. military bases on this southern island.
``This was an extremely heinous and bold crime,″ presiding judge Shinei Nagamine told the court. ``It was all the more serious because it was carefully planned.″
None of the three GIs _ Navy Seaman Marcus Gill, of Woodville, Texas; Marine Pfc. Rodrico Harp, of Griffin, Ga.; and Marine Pfc. Kendrick Ledet, of Waycross, Ga. _ showed any emotion at the sentencing.
The court sentenced Gill and Harp to 7 years, and Ledet to 6 1/2 years. Stiff by Japanese standards, the sentences will be served in Yokosuka prison, just south of Tokyo. Rape causing injury carries a maximum sentence of life in prison; prosecutors had asked for 10 years.
The defendants have two weeks to appeal.
All three confessed to some role in the attack. Gill said that he raped the girl. Ledet and Harp denied raping her and said they helped abduct her only because Gill bullied them into it.
The court, however, ruled that blood stains from the victim found on Harp’s underwear proved he, too, raped her.
The judges concluded that Ledet was unable to go through with the rape after realizing how young the victim was, and therefore gave him a slightly lighter sentence.
Japanese officials and citizens said the sentences were either justified or not harsh enough.
``The penalty was too light, I almost wept when I heard it,″ said Chieko Aguni, a local counselor for rape victims. ``The sentence will never heal the fear, shock and pain they caused that little girl.″
Relatives of the servicemen, however, called the penalties unfair.
``It’s very political _ it seems they are being used as scapegoats,″ said Kim Cannon, Ledet’s sister. She added Okinawans will continue blaming Americans until the island’s U.S. bases are closed.
Michael Griffith, an American lawyer representing the families of Harp and Ledet, said the two were planning an appeal. He blamed Japanese lawyers for not properly preparing the defendants.
Gill’s lawyer, Masanori Higa, said the sentence was ``slightly more severe″ than he expected and that Gill had said he would appeal if the sentence exceeded five years.
Prosecutors said the three forced the girl into their rental car on the night of Sept. 4 as she left a stationery shop after buying a school notebook. They beat and bound her as Gill drove to a deserted road amid fields of sugar cane.
The girl was raped there and abandoned. Still bleeding, she wandered to the nearest house and tearfully called home. Military police arrested Gill, Ledet and Harp two days later.
The crime reinforced the image of the lawless GI in Japan and exacerbated long-standing resentment at the American presence, which locals say brings crime and unfairly burdens Okinawa. One-fifth of the island is taken up by U.S. military installations.
Record numbers of Okinawans have rallied against the bases. The largest protest, held in October, drew 60,000 people, many of whom shouted demands for the immediate withdrawal of the 27,000 U.S. troops.
Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota, a longstanding opponent of the U.S. bases, has called for the troops’ removal by 2015, and his government has drawn up detailed plans for the departure. The furor over the case prompted extensive apologies by American officials and fueled talk of moving some of the soldiers on Okinawa to other parts of Japan or the Asian-Pacific.
About a dozen red-stenciled anti-base signs hung outside the court today, some reading ``American Animals Get Out″ in English.
The U.S. Embassy refused to comment on the ruling today; it said only that an American military observer present at all the proceedings reported no problems contrary to U.S. or Japanese judicial practices.
``Japan is a nation under the rule of law, just as the United States is a nation under the rule of law,″ the U.S. Embassy statement said. ``We respect each other’s legal processes.″
Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto told Kyodo News that the sentences were ``somewhat more severe″ than past rape decisions, but he suggested the punishment was fair in light of the victim’s age. ``I wonder if with this, the pain of the child and her family will really come to an end,″ Kyodo quoted him as saying.
Though TV cameras were not allowed inside the courtroom, in keeping with Japanese legal custom, the proceedings were closely followed. About 300 people lined up this morning for a lottery for the 34 seats available in the courtroom.