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First ever lay judge trial sends U.S. Marine to prison

Date Posted: 2010-05-29

A 19-year-old Marine stationed at Camp Kinser has been sentenced to 3-4 years in prison for using a knife to injure a taxi driver and rob him at last year.

The conviction was the first ever handed down in a Japanese lay judge trial. Six individuals heard testimony in the trial of Jonathan Kim, who said he robbed the taxi driver to prove he was macho and to impress his superiors. “While I do not have a good impression of the U.S. forces due to the base issues, I was not swayed by my emotions as an Okinawa resident in the deliberations,” explained one judge following the verdict.

Another, a female elementary school teacher in her 40’s, also talked mainly about base issues, but said she separated her thoughts to concentrate on the trial. A third, 25-year-old Hiroto Higa, said he hoped the 3-4 year sentence would “serve as a deterrence” to American servicemen committing crimes on Okinawa. Prosecutors had sought a 4-6 year term, but the Naha District Court reduced it.

The trial garnered nationwide media coverage as the first to use citizens to determine guilt or innocence in a court. Some law professors say the new process is still very much in a trial-and-error mode, and prosecutors have some reservations.

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