YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeremy Lamont Hill apologized in a Japanese court Wednesday for his part in an attack on retired U.S. sailor Curtis Brown — a crime both attacker and victim say had links to an infamous U.S. gang, the Crips.

Hill asked to be “banned from Japan” for the rest of his “natural life,” saying he didn’t want Brown “to feel threatened.”

But citing Hill’s apparent “weak remorse,” prosecutor Sayaka Matsuno asked that he be sentenced to two years at hard labor.

Hill, 28, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Alenius Denaro Lee, 24, are on trial this week at the Yokohama District Court in Yokosuka. Hill and Lee were charged with assault after Brown was found beaten, unconscious and unclothed in Hayama late at night on Jan. 4, 2005. Hill’s fourth hearing was Wednesday; Lee’s was to be at 11 a.m. Thursday.

The two at first were tried together. Through their initial two hearings, both denied the charge. Lee’s attorney requested separate trials after the second hearing. During Lee’s third hearing on Feb. 14, he accused Hill of coercing him into the attack and contended the assault was planned down to “who would hit Brown first.”

Hill admitted in court Wednesday to punching and kicking Brown, adding that he “had no intention, no plan to attack Brown. I’m really sorry about what happened.”

But prosecutor Matsuno called the attack “vicious” and “well-planned” and the motive “vague.”

According to court testimony, Brown was friends with former U.S. sailor Jerry Smith. Brown has contended Smith harbored a grudge because Brown refused to help him fake a drug test. Smith consequently was discharged from the Navy, according to Hill’s attorney, Kazunari Watanabe. Brown was attacked a day before Smith was sent back to the United States, Watanabe said.

Brown knew Smith in the States and met Hill in 2003, according to trial testimony.

In arguing for a prison sentence, Matsuno told the court that Brown “said it was an act of vengeance because he decided to stay away from the gang group.”

But Watanabe contended that Smith had ordered the attack and that “if Hill didn’t do it, he felt he would be in danger.” Saying that Hill also paid $6,000 to Brown as compensation, Watanabe requested a suspended sentence.

After Wednesday’s court hearing, Hill told Stars and Stripes that although the crime had gang ties, there’s “no gang war happening in Japan.”

“People here don’t know what a gang war is,” Hill said. “People belong to gangs in the States but there are no gangs in Japan.”

Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman John Wallach said that a “controlled environment” like a military base in Japan would make it difficult to operate such a group in secrecy.

“We don’t believe we have a gang issue in Yokosuka or at any base in Japan,” Wallach said. “If we did, NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) is equipped to handle it.”

The victim, meanwhile, told Stars and Stripes he can forgive but not forget the Hayama attack that hospitalized him for a month. As a former Crips member, he said, he had a choice: take vengeance on those who assaulted him or let the Japanese justice system handle the case. He said he opted for Japanese justice but forgives his assailants -— who also had ties to the Crips, according to court testimony and statements to Stars and Stripes.

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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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