November 7, 1995
Web posted at: 9:10 a.m. EST (1410 GMT)
From Correspondent May Lee and wire reports
OKINAWA, Japan (CNN) -- Despite guilty pleas Tuesday, the case of three U.S. servicemen accused of raping a 12-year-old girl on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa could continue for months. As the trial began, Navy Seaman Marcus Gill, 22, pleaded guilty to rape. Marine privates Rodrico Harp, 21, and Kendrick Ledet, 20, admitted to helping plan the September 4 attack but denied raping the girl. Harp also confessed to hitting the girl as she was abducted. In a written statement read in court, the girl said, "I hope they will be kept in jail as long as they live."
The prosecution maintains all three are guilty of rape. The case, which has enraged Okinawans, has raised questions about the future of the U.S. military presence in Japan and threatens to overshadow a November 20 Tokyo summit between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. The next court session is scheduled for December 4. Unlike in American courts, Japanese trials do not occur in consecutive daily sessions; hearings are separated by weeks or even months.
According to prosecutors, Gill, Harp and Ledet snatched the girl off the street and forced her into a rented van. Harp and Ledet taped shut her eyes and mouth, bound her feet and hands and beat her face and stomach to keep her from struggling, prosecutors said. Authorities maintain that Gill and Harp then raped the girl at an isolated beach. Ledet tried and was unable, they said. Gill's attorney, Masanori Higa, said stress and pressure from military officials drove Gill to commit a crime.
Despite the plea of Harp and Ledet to the lesser charge of conspiracy, Harp's attorney, Mitsunobu Matsunaga, told CNN that rape and conspiracy are nearly the same in the eyes of a Japanese judge. If convicted, all three men could be sentenced from three years to life in prison. Gill is from Woodville, Texas. Harp is from Griffin, Georgia. Ledet is from Waycross, Georgia.
When the trial resumes, defense attorneys are expected to offer the victim compensation, which could lead to a reduction of sentence. But for the girl's family, money may mean little. In a statement read by prosecutors in court, the victim's father said, "If existing laws permitted, I wish to kill the three American soldiers."
The rape case has intensified debate about whether the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan are still needed. More than half of them are based on Okinawa at military facilities that cover nearly 20 percent the tropical island's land area. Last month about 85,000 Okinawans demonstrated against the bases in the biggest protest against their presence since the United States, which had occupied the island from World War II, handed back the island to Japan in 1972.
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