CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – A Marine who admitted assaulting an Okinawa taxi driver after a night of drinking in November was given a three-year, suspended sentence by a Japanese court Monday.

Lance Cpl. Jamison Michael Bissett, 20, assigned to Camp Hansen, pleaded guilty last week to assault, obstruction of business, making threats, larceny and violation of Japanese traffic laws for choking Hideki Enokawa, 61, from behind on Nov. 7 on a trip to the base.

Bissett then stole and crashed the cab, totaling the vehicle, according to police.

Naha District Court Judge Tatsuto Sakamoto sentenced Bissett to three years in a Japanese prison with hard labor but suspended the sentence for four years. Bissett will likely serve no additional jail time unless he commits another crime in Japan.

“It has been recognized that the defendant committed these offenses under the influence of alcohol and on the spur of the moment, one after the other, and did not plot assaults and threats in order to commit a taxi robbery,” Sakamoto explained in court.

“The court is disinclined to impose a prison sentence right away when considering some favorable circumstances for the defendant where he has no prior criminal record, has admitted to the facts laid out in court, shown remorse and promised to not commit more crimes.”

A spokesperson for the Marine Corps did not immediately respond to requests Monday afternoon from Stars and Stripes seeking comment on Bissett’s future on the island or in the Corps.

“He not only endangered the victim's life and body but also caused danger” to other vehicles on the highway, Sakamoto said while reading the verdict. “These offenses caused great fear to the victim as he would have if he were to have been robbed. The psychological distress should be considered fully.”

Prosecutors had sought 3 ½ years with hard labor. Bissett’s attorneys had asked for probation.

During the two-day trial last week, the court heard how Bissett had gone drinking with friends in American Village, a Chatan tourist hub, on the evening of Nov. 7. After downing “at least four to five beers and eight to 10 shots of tequila,” he hailed a cab for the long ride back to Hansen.

Just short of Hansen, at about 10:10 p.m., Bissett demanded to be taken back to Chatan, according to Enokawa’s statement read in court. Bissett began choking the driver, who eventually stopped the cab and fled on foot, according to testimony.

Police found Bissett in the cab, which had struck the median, with a head injury. He was arrested at a local hospital the next day on a robbery charge. Police alleged that Bissett stole the equivalent of about $100 from the taxi driver’s change purse.

More charges followed Nov. 27, and Bissett has been in custody since his arrest.

Enokawa asked for the maximum sentence for his attacker. Bissett got emotional at times and pleaded guilty, claiming to have no recollection of the incident.

“I don’t remember any of this; it doesn’t sound like me,” he told the court last week. “I thought I went in the taxi with my friends but during the investigation police said I was alone in the taxi, and next thing I know, I was at the hospital, and even that memory is bits and pieces.”

Bissett also expressed remorse.

“I’d like to take this moment to apologize to the taxi driver and the company,” he said in closing arguments Thursday. “I am very sorry, and I will never, ever do this kind of crime again.” Twitter: @MatthewMBurke1 Twitter: @HanaKusumoto

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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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.

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