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YOKOHAMA, Japan — A $1.7 million civil suit proceeding started Wednesday with family members and a bevy of attorneys saying a sailor, the government of Japan and the U.S. Navy were to blame for the Jan. 3 fatal beating of a Yokosuka woman by a USS Kitty Hawk sailor.

Yoshie Sato’s two sons and her fiance, Masanori Yamazaki, are suing the Japanese government and William Oliver Reese, the 22-year-old Navy airman convicted of the crime, for 200 million yen in compensatory damages.

The family is backed by 115 attorneys from Japan and Okinawa, including those from military opposition groups. They say the high-dollar suit is justified for three reasons — the “brutality” of the crime, the Navy’s culpability in controlling alcohol-related incidents and the Japanese government’s policy allowing U.S. forces to be stationed in Japan.

“The national government has the legal responsibility as long as they allow dangerous troops to be stationed here,” lawyer Ben Aragaki said Wednesday at Yokohama District Court.

The Japanese government turned in a statement directly to the court without making any oral presentations. A Defense Facilities Administration Agency spokesman declined to comment.

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.

Though Reese wasn’t on duty at the time of the attack, a preceding rash of alcohol-related crimes by servicemembers should have prompted the Navy to crack down on drinking, attorney Hiroshi Takahashi said.

“Even though alcohol-related incidents frequently occurred, there was no regulation against the Kitty Hawk sailor drinking until the morning,” Takahashi said.

Reese had been drinking from 10:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., when he approached Sato near the Yokosuka Chuo train station asking for directions to nearby Yokosuka Naval Base, according to police documents.

According to the documents, Reese dragged Sato off the street, beat her for more than 10 minutes and took 15,000 yen, about $130, from her purse. Sato died from internal injuries in a Yokosuka hospital later that day.

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

On Wednesday, plaintiffs’ attorneys requested that the Prosecutor’s Office release Reese’s personnel information, including possible prior behavioral or criminal problems, to back up their claims that the Navy should have seen the incident coming.

The hearing was followed by a rally at which Yamazaki and attorneys asked the public for support at the next hearing, scheduled for Feb. 21 at 11 a.m.

“If there were no U.S. bases and no servicemembers, we could have lived happily,” Yamazaki said Wednesday. “As long as there will be U.S. bases, there will be victims like us.”

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