Pacific edition, Sunday, July 29, 2007

SEOUL — Two U.S. soldiers were given jail sentences Friday for trying to rape an off-duty South Korean policewoman, though one of the soldiers claims he had nothing to do with the attack.

Pfc. Mark Feldmann, who repeatedly told the court he was outside trying to catch a taxi while Sgt. Anthony Q. Basel tried to rape the woman inside a public bathroom, shook his head as the chief judge delivered the sentences — 3 years for him, and 3½ years for Basel.

Basel admitted in court that he tried to rape the woman, but said he remembered little about the attack because he had drunk at least 20 beers that day.

The pair, based at Camp Stanley, had spent the day drinking in Seoul, and police say they had been detained for about 30 minutes before the attempted rape because Feldmann had groped a woman on the street.

When announcing the sentence, Chief Judge Lee Han-ju said the panel of judges he heads had a “very difficult deliberation” and that he hopes Feldmann appeals the sentence.

Feldmann’s attorney, Kim Jong-pyo, told Stars and Stripes after the proceedings that his client plans to do just that. Kim said the guilty verdict was “nonsense,” and Feldmann believes the verdict isn’t fair.

Kim said the judge’s statements about hoping Feldmann appeals show he “has no confidence in his decision.”

During sentencing, Lee said the panel found Feldmann guilty based on the testimony of Cho Sung-Hwan, a restaurant owner who interrupted the attack after he heard a woman screaming in the bathroom.

After opening the door and seeing the attack in progress, Cho ran to his restaurant and called the police. During the call, he said there were two attackers, according to court testimony. When officially questioned by police a day later, he said there was only one man in the bathroom, but a few days later he changed his statement and said there were two attackers.

Cho said in court he was sure there were two men in the bathroom, but he couldn’t remember where the second man was standing because he was stunned and embarrassed by the incident.

The policewoman testified in a closed court session that she didn’t know whether there was a second man in the bathroom as Basel tried to rape her.

Lee said the soldiers could have been sentenced to five years in jail, but the judges considered the soldiers’ ages and the fact they had no previous criminal records in deciding their sentences. He also said that when two or more men conspire to rape a woman, the sentence must be harsher than if one man had acted alone.

Basel’s defense attorney, Jin Hyo-geun, said he will meet with the soldier Monday and decide if he wants to appeal the sentence. Jin declined to say whether he thought the sentence was fair until he could read the judge’s full decision.

Jin said his client offered a financial settlement to the woman, a common practice in South Korean court that judges take into account when determining punishment. Jin said the woman refused the payment because she is a police officer.

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