TACHIKAWA, Japan — There is no doubt that the son of an American airman strung a rope across a street near Yokota Air Base, Japan, last year, causing serious injury to a Japanese woman on a scooter. So on the opening day of the youth’s trial in Japanese criminal court on Wednesday, defense attorneys asserted that he was unfairly being tried as an adult for the incident.

The 19-year-old confessed to the August, 2009, crime months ago and made a “gomen nasai” — or “I’m sorry” — payment to the victim, customary in the Japanese legal system. The teen, whose name was withheld from testimony because he is still considered a minor under Japanese law, is charged with causing bodily injury and obstruction of traffic and faces a maximum 15-year sentence if convicted. He was 18 at the time of the incident and would be subject to a more lenient punishment in family court.

A family court in March referred the case to the prosecutor’s office, which subsequently indicted the teen in May. Three other teenagers from Yokota were connected to the incident but were cleared in late 2009. Japanese police took all four into custody in early December for questioning and released them Christmas Day, a day after all four apologized to the victim’s family. During Wednesday’s proceedings at Tokyo District Court in Tachikawa, defense attorney Takuro Matsubara contended that not only did prosecutors taint the entire judicial process by dismissing the charges against the other three teens, but the family court also erred in transferring the case to criminal court.

The law states all juvenile cases must be sent to the family court, he said, adding that a family court investigator concluded that the teen could be rehabilitated and was not likely to commit a crime in the future.

Matsubara and his co-counsel also argued in court that the three teens who were cleared were close friends and by way of their relationship protected each other by shifting blame to the teen now on trial. During the proceedings, the teen addressed prosecutors’ assertion that the teen was the mastermind behind the plan to cover up the prank gone wrong. “It wasn’t just me telling them what to do,” he testified, his back facing the audience to protect his identity. “It was an agreement between all of us” to lie to the police on the scene.

The defense maintained that the teen never meant to cause injury but had intended only for the rope to be recognized by motorists and force them to turn around on the street. “He didn’t have an intention of causing injury,” Matsubara said during opening statements.

Prosecutors responded by telling the three-judge panel that they were focused on holding the teen accountable for his actions, not his intentions. They also emphasized the victim’s anger in the wake of the incident.The woman, who was 23 at the time, suffered a fractured skull, spent 17 days in the hospital and was out of work for two months. “I honestly even think I want them to die,” for their crimes, the woman said in a statement read by prosecutors.

“I could never think of forgiving them. I want the four to spend the rest of their lives paying for the crime.”

The next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 9.

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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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