YOKOHAMA, Japan — The U.S. Navy issued an apology Friday after USS Kitty Hawk airman William Oliver Reese Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment for the beating death of Yoshie Sato, a 56-year-old Yokosuka woman.

In a written statement, Rear Adm. James D. Kelly, commanding officer of Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan, called it a “difficult time” for Sato’s family and friends, Yokosuka citizens and Japanese people.

“While the sentencing represents an end to the judicial process, I know this terrible tragedy has created emotional wounds for many which time will never heal,” Kelly said. “I reaffirm my commitment to you, as CNFJ and as a fellow citizen of Yokosuka, to make every effort to ensure that a tragedy like this is never repeated.”

Navy reaction to the Jan. 3 crime was swift and decisive. The Navy handed Reese over to Japanese police custody less than a week after his arrest. Public apologies have been made by high-ranking U.S. officials including U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Thomas Schieffer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen and U.S. 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Jonathan Greenert.

An alcohol-consumption policy was put in place for active-duty military in Yokosuka and a curfew was set on sea-duty sailors. A policy letter reinforcing “zero tolerance” for off-base misconduct by servicemembers and others was issued by U.S. Forces Japan. Sailors began picking up litter on the streets around Yokosuka Naval Base.

At a news conference following Friday’s sentencing, Sato’s family characterized the efforts as “temporary appeals” meant to appease the public.

“They are not for us,” said Sato’s brother, Shuichi Sanada. “I want them to educate [the sailors] so that these things will not happen again.”

Sanada said he believes the two-hearing trial was rushed to avoid controversy that may cut support for the Navy’s recent decision to bring a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Yokosuka in 2008.

“I felt that this incident was resolved early and the U.S. Forces cooperated with the Japanese in many ways because the issue of the nuclear carrier was at the root of this incident,” he said.

Yokohama District Court Judge Masazo Ogura on Friday characterized the case as having “great impact on society.”

“This case — a heinous crime committed by a servicemember in the early morning — gave great concerns and shock to the residents in the vicinity of the base and had a large effect on the society,” Ogura said.

Even from his Japanese prison cell, Reese heard that his crime had far-reaching ramifications, he said in testimony.

“Tensions are high between Japan and (the) U.S. because the trust factor is endangered,” Reese said. “I’m sorry for the stress I’ve caused. I know things are really strict on base now and I’m sorry for that.”

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now