Airman pleads guilty to molesting 10-year-old Okinawan girl
NAHA, Okinawa — A 27-year-old airman pleaded guilty Tuesday in Naha District Court to charges of molesting a 10-year-old girl and trespassing in connection with a July 3 incident in Okinawa City.
Staff Sgt. Armando Valdez, 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, had no comment on the charges during the 90-minute hearing, his first court appearance since his July indictment. Flanked by two guards on a bench in front of the defense table, he listened intently to the proceedings’ English translation.
Prosecutor Masahisa Yokota, reading from the indictment, said Valdez came across the girl and her 9-year-old friend at 8:25 a.m. as they played in front of the younger girl’s home in the city’s Chuo District, waiting for Sunday school to start.
Yokota said Valdez took several pictures of them playing, then led them into the three-story building’s ground-floor parking garage, where he put his hand inside the 10-year-old’s pants, touching her lower abdomen. He then forced her to roll up her T-shirt and photographed her breasts with a cell-phone camera, according to Yokota.
He said the girl’s friend escaped the garage and rode her bike to the victim’s house, where she met the victim’s 8-year-old sister. The two then rode to the Okinawa First Baptist Church to report the incident. Meanwhile, the victim walked to the church and tearfully told a teacher what had happened, he said.
The teacher called police. Yokota said Okinawa prefectural police arrested Valdez at 9:30 a.m. after he was spotted photographing some other girls playing.
A Breathalyzer test proved Valdez was extremely intoxicated, Yokota said. He said Valdez began drinking the day before, at a friend’s house on Camp Shields, then drove to the city’s Gate Two Street area, where he parked his car and visited several clubs.
He left one of the clubs at 5 a.m. Sunday but rambled around the entertainment district for several hours trying to remember where he’d parked his car — which had been towed for illegal parking at 4:55 a.m., Yokota said.
The prosecutor said Valdez offered several different versions of what occurred, contending at one point that when he tried to photograph the girl’s face, she lifted up her T-shirt to show him her chest. He at first denied he reached into her pants, the prosecutor said.
Valdez has been stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa prefecture since January, base spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Paoli has said. Valdez, who worked in aircraft maintenance, has no previous criminal record, Yokota said in court. His attorneys are expected to appeal for lenient sentencing, Paoli said.
Valdez has been in Okinawan custody since his arrest. His attorney said he intends to apologize formally and pay compensation when he can raise the money. He said Valdez has not been paid since his arrest.
The incident, given front-page play in the local press, drew sharp criticism from Okinawan officials. It eventually resulted in a liberty-card program for airmen similar to the one in effect for Marines on the island since June 2004.
In a statement introduced as evidence, the girl said she hoped Valdez is never released. Her parents, saying she was traumatized by the incident, also asked that he be sent to prison.
Valdez faces a maximum sentence of seven years. The next trial session is set for Oct. 20.
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.