Soldier convicted of South Korea rape claims unfair treatment
SEOUL – A U.S. soldier convicted of raping a South Korean teenager last year testified Tuesday that he has been treated unfairly by the Korean judicial system because of his nationality and that authorities have scoffed at his side of the story.
“What I get back from the district court, the prosecutors, the police [is] a smirk. You’re wrong, you’re a liar,” Pvt. Kevin Robinson told an appeals hearing before the Seoul High Court. “The whole time, I’ve been guilty before I could get a fair trial.”
Robinson was sentenced in May by the Seoul Central District Court to six years in prison for raping the woman, who was 17 at the time, at her home in Seoul in September 2011 after a night of drinking. He also was convicted of stealing her laptop.
In both his original trial and his ongoing appeal, Robinson has maintained the two had consensual oral sex but not intercourse.
But, he testified Tuesday, South Korean authorities and the press are not interested in hearing his side of the story.
“I’m going to keep saying it for probably six years because I’m an American, so, oh well,” Robinson said.
Robinson’s case — along with a rape committed by Pvt. Kevin Lee Flippin about a week later — led to a groundswell of complaints about U.S. military misbehavior in South Korea and calls to reform the Status of Forces Agreement, which was viewed as being too lenient on U.S. forces. Both cases led to the enactment of a nighttime curfew for the military that remains in place.
The soldier’s appeal has dragged on for months in part because of the victim’s refusal to testify, either at the District Court trial or during the appeals process.
Unlike the American legal system, a person can be convicted of a crime in South Korea even if his or her accuser does not testify as long as judges decide there is enough evidence to support the charges, according to court officials. A High Court spokesman said it is common for victims of sexual crimes to refuse to appear in court, and no statement from the victim has been entered as evidence because she did not appear in court.
Robinson, who is married with two young children, has testified he met the victim at the Monkey Beach nightclub in Seoul’s popular Apgujeong district, and she claimed to be 18, which is the minimum age for entry into the club.
“From the beginning, she lied,” he said. “She lied to the police, she lied to the prosecutor and she never showed up to court.”
District court judges have cited the victim’s being underage as part of the reason for Robinson’s sentence.
The pair, along with two others — a female friend of the victim and a male U.S. soldier — returned in the early-morning hours to her home, where she vomited and at one point lost consciousness, Robinson testified.
He later went back the victim’s room alone to check on her after hearing her vomit again.
Robinson said the victim then proceeded to initiate oral sex by unbuttoning his pants, pulling him close and saying, “Would you like me to?”
He acknowledged that the victim did not explicitly state what she wanted to do, but said that, “When she pulled me in, that’s what made me think 100 percent that she wanted to perform oral sex.”
On Tuesday, the prosecutor and head judge questioned whether the victim was too intoxicated to consent to and perform oral sex.
“In her condition, it would be incomprehensible that she could wake up and offer oral sex,” the prosecutor said, noting that CCTV footage taken outside her apartment showed her unable to walk without assistance.
They also questioned whether she spoke English well enough to communicate her intentions to Robinson. Robinson said the victim spoke enough English to converse with him but had to ask her female friend to translate some words.
Robinson also noted that a rape examination found no direct evidence of sexual intercourse. Both the defense and prosecution in his district court trial said there was no direct evidence that a rape took place, though circumstantial evidence, including items stained with semen and blood, were recovered from the scene.
Both his initial trial and his appeal have been heard by panels of judges, as is customary in South Korea.
Robinson said Tuesday he considered requesting a jury trial so the victim would be forced to testify but decided against it because of negative media coverage that prematurely declared him guilty.
The court will issue its ruling Oct. 25.
Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.