AF spouse remains suspect in boy’s death
June 10, 2007
NAHA, Okinawa — Despite being released Wednesday with no charges filed against him, Roberto Deleon remains the prime suspect in the beating death of his 8-year-old stepson, a Japanese prosecutor said Friday.
Hirokazu Urata, deputy chief prosecutor for the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office, said his office is proceeding with the investigation “with all our might.”
Deleon, 25, was arrested May 16 on suspicion of causing the injuries that resulted in the death of Jordan D. Peterson, son of Air Force Staff Sgt. Sabrina Deleon, who serves with a squadron assigned to 18th Maintenance Group.
Jordan was in his family’s off-base home in Uruma April 11 when Deleon called his wife at work and told her that the boy was not breathing, according to the police report.
His wife rushed home with a military ambulance close behind and Jordan was rushed to the U.S. Naval Hospital on Camp Lester, the report said.
He was pronounced dead about two hours later from blood loss due to internal injuries, according to the report. An autopsy was conducted April 14.
During the ensuing police investigation, it was learned that a Japanese woman had found Jordan wandering barefoot and shirtless, clad only in shorts on a cold day last November.
She said the boy was bruised and that he told her he was running away from home.
However, Japanese police released the boy to his parents, who had filed a missing person’s report, according to a police spokesman.
No follow-up investigation was made by Japanese police, the spokesman said.
Deleon was released from jail Wednesday after the maximum time allowed by Japanese law to hold a suspect prior to indictment had expired.
Urata said he expects a breakthrough in the case within 10 days.
“We are determined to do everything we can until the last minute,” he told Stars and Stripes in an interview. “Whether the victim is an American or Japanese boy, it does not make any difference to us. We will do our best with all our might. We have not given up.”
But if his office indicts Deleon, there’s no guarantee he will still be in Japan.
“We cannot forcibly keep him on the island,” Urata said. “There is no legal ground to restrict his freedom. If the suspect leaves the country, extradition is the next step.”
Japan has an extradition treaty with the United States that would enable the return of Deleon for trial, if he is indicted. However, if the suspect flees to a different country, it might be more difficult.
Urata added that U.S. officials could still take some action against Deleon if he is not indicted.
“Japan has primary jurisdiction, but the United States also has the secondary jurisdiction over this case,” he said.
He confirmed that the cause of death on the autopsy report from the hospital indicated the boy died of massive internal bleeding and was suspicious in nature.
The autopsy was done at U.S. Naval Hospital on Camp Lester. The hospital would not disclose autopsy findings to Stars and Stripes.
“Autopsy reports are normally issued only to next of kin, law enforcement agencies, and (in the case of death of an active-duty service member) to the member’s commanding officer,” a hospital spokesman said in a written response to a query.
“It is the policy of the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner not to comment or release statements on cases that are under active investigation by law enforcement personnel,” he wrote. Autopsy results in this case are being sent to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Uruma city police, he added.
On Friday, an 18th Wing spokesman said Deleon was barred from base, but no action could be taken to place him on a country hold.
The ban from base is “not unusual when we have a serious issue with a dependent,” spokeswoman Maj. Dani Johnson said, adding that the Air Force could only prevent Deleon from boarding an American airplane from Kadena Air Base.
“Because the case isn’t in our jurisdiction we don’t have the ability to hold him,” she said.
She would not confirm whether the Air Force is conducting its own investigation into the child’s death. She also would not comment whether the base’s family services department is looking into the welfare of the staff sergeant’s other child, a 10-year-old girl.
However, she did confirm that girl is with her mother and the two have returned to the island.
Urata said the Okinawa prosecutors have yet to interview them.
“The most important and material evidence is the account of eyewitnesses,” he said. “But soon after the incident, the family members — the daughter and wife — went back to the States and we had no chance to talk to them.”
The case is more complicated than other suspected abuse cases, he said.
“This is a very rare case,” Urata said. “The incident occurred within the family and the home is located off-base and all the people involved are military members. It is true that differences in social system, cultures and judicial systems baffle us in many ways.”
Urata said the hospital’s autopsy report is written in English and is a bit different than Japanese death documents.
However, the case would have been difficult even if it only involved Japanese, he added.
“There are many hurdles to clear to prove criminal responsibility of abuse cases that occur within the family,” he said. “Recently, we had a case in which a Japanese mother here on Okinawa was prosecuted for abusing her baby. We had solid evidence from a medical doctor, although the mother was denying the accusation.”
And there were no other witnesses. The woman was found not guilty.
“With this experience in mind, we have been very prudent in carrying out the investigation,” Urata said. “This is a very rare case. But the fact is that the boy is dead.
“We want to do everything we can for him.”