PORDENONE, Italy — The Italian attorney representing an American airman convicted May 11 of raping a 14-year-old Italian girl said he plans to appeal the case to the nation’s highest courts.

Antonio Malattia said he has two reasons for appealing the verdict against Airman 1st Class Robert Gardner, who was sentenced to six years in prison for the 2002 assault.

Gardner, who was 20 when the incident took place, never appeared in court during the dozen or so sessions that were held. Malattia said that’s because Gardner was never served papers with the charges in English.

“The reason we plan to appeal is the European Convention for Human Rights provides that the charges have to be translated for the defendant in a language he understands,” he said. Malattia said he made that argument more than once before the three judges who presided at the Tribunale di Pordenone, but they disagreed.

But Italy’s top court issued a ruling during the trial on a similar case that said such translations must be provided. So Malattia believes, if nothing else, that the trial would need to be held again after Gardner receives the charges against him in English.

He said he also believes there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict his client. He said Gardner denies ever being in the room with the girl where the incident took place, much less having sex with her.

An Albanian national, Kasem Plaku, was also convicted of the crime and sentenced to six years along with Gardner. Plaku has maintained that the sex was consensual. He and another Albanian national were positively identified by the girl in court testimony.

The girl, who is now 19, said she believed at least one other person was in the room during the assault. She said her memory wasn’t complete, partially because she had been given alcohol by the suspects. She testified the other person might have been Gardner, according to Malattia.

Malattia said DNA evidence found on the girl and her clothing matched some of the suspects, but weren’t a match for Gardner.

Malattia said under the Italian legal system, the judges are currently given time to write their reasons for their verdict. After that, appeals may be launched.

Gardner is still stationed at Aviano Air Base and has continued to work on base during the lengthy trial, which lasted about 16 months. He declined a face-to-face interview, and referred questions about the case to his attorney.

Malattia said that with the various appeals available to him, he doesn’t believe that Gardner would serve any prison time until at least 2010, even if he loses every one of them.

“But I’m quite confident the appeal will have a happy ending,” he said.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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