TACHIKAWA, Japan — A Japanese court sentenced an American teen to a suspended two-year prison term Friday for stringing a rope across a street near Yokota Air Base that caused serious injury to a Japanese motorist.
The 19-year-old — the son of an U.S. Air Force officer based at Yokota who still lives with his parents — did not necessarily intend to hurt anyone with the prank gone wrong, the three-judge panel ruled, but “he should have known better ... and must be held criminally responsible.”
He was convicted of bodily injury and obstructing traffic, and faced up to 15 years in prison. But his suspended sentence means he will avoid prison if he does not commit any more crimes in Japan for the next three years. His name has been withheld from court proceedings and his identity was protected during the trial because he is considered a minor under Japanese law.
Defense attorney Takuro Matsubara would not comment on his client’s reaction to the sentencing Friday and said he was still considering whether to appeal the ruling.
The American and three other teens from Yokota confessed to the August 2009 incident, which left a 23-year-old woman with a fractured skull. She spent 17 days in the hospital and was out of work for two months after the crash.
Japanese police arrested and detained all four American teens in late 2009, but prosecutors only indicted one, calling him the mastermind of the rope incident. The other three have left Japan, Yokota spokeswoman Capt. Tania Bryan said Friday.
Although the victim did not testify during the trial that started in July, she submitted two impassioned statements to the court insisting that the teen be severely punished. She is considering suing the American and his family for civil damages, Matsubara said.
It was unclear Friday if the military would bar the teen or active-duty mother from leaving Japan with a civil lawsuit pending, Bryan said. The American family has already paid approximately $17,000 in “gomen nasai” — or “I’m sorry” — payments to the victim, as is customary in the Japanese legal system.
Just before the sentence came down, prosecutors introduced a new medical report that shows the victim’s injuries are worse than originally expected. Although she is still able to work, she has difficulty mastering new tasks and communicating with others, prosecutors said in court Friday.
After the report was submitted into evidence, the teen repeated the apology he has uttered throughout the trial in Tokyo District Court in Tachikawa.
“I’m still sorry for what happened and I stand by that,” he said.