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YOKOHAMA, Japan — A Kitty Hawk sailor sued for beating to death a Yokosuka woman said the Navy and Japanese government should not be held liable for his actions, according to a statement submitted during a hearing Wednesday in Yokohama District Court.

Navy airman William Oliver Reese, 22, and the Japanese government are named as defendants in a lawsuit Yoshie Sato’s family filed, seeking $1.7 million in compensation.

Sato was killed Jan. 3, 2006, on her way to work in the morning.

Under the status of forces agreement, the Japanese government is legally responsible for paying damages to victims of crimes committed by on-duty U.S. servicemembers. If a settlement is awarded, at least half the money would come from the United States, according to SOFA provisions.

“The act involved in this case completely occurred during off-duty hours,” read the statement submitted by Reese’s attorney. “There is no doubt that U.S. Forces Japan’s supervisory responsibility is not the issue” and neither should Reese’s actions “bring compensation responsibility upon the Government of Japan.”

The family’s attorneys, however, contend preventing such an incident was the Navy’s responsibility.

Though Reese wasn’t on duty at the time of the attack, preceding alcohol-related crimes by servicemembers should have prompted the Navy to crack down on drinking and enforcing curfews, defense attorneys contended.

The attorneys presented a 2003 Department of Defense survey showing that rates of alcohol-related incidents and drug use in the U.S. military began to rise after 1998.

“This incident occurred as a result of (the Navy) failing its supervisory authority involving taking concrete steps” to prevent such incidents by applying curfews and alcohol limits, attorneys said.

Commander, Naval Forces Japan had an observer at the hearing. But CNFJ spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman said commenting on the proceedings would be inappropriate because the case is being handled in the Japanese courts.

Reese pleaded guilty to the robbery-homicide and on June 2 was sentenced to life in prison.

The next hearing in the family’s lawsuit is set to begin at 11 a.m. May 23 in Yokohama District Court.

Stars and Stripes reporter Allison Batdorff contributed to this report.

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