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U.S. soldier sentenced to Japanese jail for hit-and-run on Okinawa

NAHA, Okinawa — An Army staff sergeant was sentenced Friday to two years and eight months in a Japanese prison for killing a 66-year-old Okinawa man last November in a hit-and-run accident.

Staff Sgt. Clyde Gunn displayed no emotion as the Japanese judge convicted him of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident during Friday’s proceedings. Both the defense and prosecution quickly expressed displeasure with the ruling.

Gunn’s defense attorney, Toshimitsu Takaesu, told reporters following the sentencing session that he immediately filed an appeal after the sentence was handed down.

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“The court merely adopted only the prosecution’s evidence,” he said. “This is not what you call a trial. Judgments such as this are what makes Japan’s conviction rate 99.9 percent.”

The family of the victim, Masakazu Hokama, told reporters outside the courthouse that the sentence was too light.

Gunn, 27, a combat medic with the 1st Special Forces Group at Torii Station, pleaded not guilty in February to charges of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident.

During the course of the trial, Takaesu argued the prosecution had “no reasonable evidence” to prove Gunn knew he struck the victim while driving on a narrow farm road just before dawn last Nov. 7.

When he entered his plea in February, Gunn said he realized he had hit something as he drove to his apartment in Yomitan, but did not see anything when he stopped his car and looked around.

Hokama’s body was found in bushes by the side of the road about 12 hours later. An autopsy showed he died of a broken neck.

During Friday’s sentencing, Judge Nobuhiro Takamori said he was convinced that Gunn knew he had struck someone with his car.

“From the degree of the impact and the size of the spider-web cracks made on the windshield, and the fact that the victim’s body had obviously been thrown onto the hood, the defendant could have easily known the object his car struck was a human body,” the judge said. “Had he been paying adequate attention, the accident, which took place on the pedestrian path, could have been avoided.”

Gunn did not report the accident. He was identified as a suspect when an Okinawa police officer spotted the car he had been driving parked at an auto repair shop with a damaged front end and cracked windshield.

Gunn, from Ocean Springs, Miss., was indicted Jan. 7 and was held in the Naha Detention Center until his release on 5 million yen bail (about $53,240) in April.

After Friday’s hearing, he was returned to the detention center, where he will await the results of a new motion for bond and an appeal of the ruling to a higher court. “U.S. Army Japan leaders expressed deep sadness over Mr. Hokama’s death and will continue to provide full cooperation with Japanese authorities and ensure that all status of forces agreement provisions are met,” said Army spokesman Chip Steitz.

okibureau@pstripes.osd.mil

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