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YOKOHAMA, Japan — A USS Blue Ridge sailor was sentenced to 14 months in prison Thursday for punching a taxi driver at Yokohama Station.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Paul Booker, 23, dressed in his working summer white uniform, stood as Judge Hideyuki Suzuki read the verdict at Yokohama District Court.

Booker was accused of punching Iwao Tabata in the face early in the morning Sept. 17 after he and others left Tabata’s cab without paying the 1,750-yen fare (about $15). When he confronted the passengers outside the cab, the 60-year-old Tabata suffered a nose fracture that took about a month to heal. His dentures also were broken from the punch.

Suzuki called the incident violent and dangerous and said there was no justifiable reason to suspend the sentence even though Booker is young and has no previous criminal record.

In earlier testimony, Booker denied punching Tabata, saying that he thought an unknown Japanese woman he was with had paid the fare and he had left the scene to avoid trouble as passers-by began noticing the argument. He said he didn’t see Tabata being punched and he didn’t see him bleeding.

Booker’s attorney, Kazunari Watanabe, argued that Tabata’s testimony was not credible because he was confused and didn’t identify Booker in a lineup until two months after the incident.

However, Suzuki said Tabata’s testimony was detailed and specific and therefore credible.

Because Booker left the scene before police arrived, he was not placed in Japanese custody but had been restricted to Yokosuka Naval Base.

Booker has 14 days to appeal Thursday’s decision and will remain in U.S. custody until then, according to Commander, Naval Forces Japan spokesman Jon Nylander.

If Booker chooses not to appeal, he will be turned over to Japanese authorities to serve his sentence, Nylander said.

“We expect all of our sailors to behave responsibly, and when they don’t they will be held fully responsible,” Nylander said.

Watanabe said Thursday he did not know whether Booker will appeal the decision.

Tabata said after the verdict that he agreed with the decision and hopes it will help prevent similar crimes.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chris Fowler contributed to this report.

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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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