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U.S. Marine sent up for arson

Date Posted: 2001-08-03

NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) The Naha District Court sentenced a U.S. Marine to five years in prison Thursday for a series of arson attacks in Okinawa Prefecture in mid-January.

Prosecutors had demanded a seven-year prison term for 24-year-old Lance Cpl. Kurt Billie, posted at Camp Hansen in central Okinawa. Billie had pleaded guilty to the charges.

Presiding Judge Soichi Hayashida said in handing down the ruling: "He committed arson to escape from reality after indulging himself in drinking alcohol. He must bear heavy criminal responsibility as he committed the vicious crime out of selfish and outrageous reasons, and the court cannot ignore the anxiety he caused the local community."

According to the ruling, Billie used a lighter to set fire to a restaurant located in a bar area of the town of Chatan on Jan. 15, burning the walls of the restaurant and another store.

Billie also set fire to a blanket and other items in the same area of Chatan on Jan. 20, causing partial or total destruction to five stores, the ruling said.

During the trial, Billie said he set fires to vent his frustrations.

The U.S. Marine Corps handed Billie over to Japanese prosecutors after the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office indicted him on charges of deliberately starting a fire Jan. 15 in Chatan.

The U.S. military had earlier refused to hand him over because under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, suspects are not required to be handed over to Japanese authorities unless charges are filed. However, the U.S. has agreed to consider handing over suspects in crimes such as murder and rape before their indictment.

The recent uproar in Okinawa over incidents involving the U.S. military prompted prosecutors to indict Billie only two days after police sent them the case.

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