Italian court grants unexpected leniency to soldier convicted of rape
A U.S. soldier sentenced to nearly six years in prison after being convicted in Italian court of raping a Nigerian woman could be a free man later this summer.
In an unusual twist, Sgt. James Michael Brown of the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment received leniency from the Italian judges even though he didn’t ask for it.
According to Antonio Marchesini, Brown’s Italian attorney, the defense didn’t use Brown’s stint in Iraq to seek leniency in the case or justify the crime. But the soldier’s wartime experience played to the sympathy of the court.
Marchesini confirmed a news report that said the court wrote in Brown’s sentencing document: “The prolonged psychological stress to which the accused was subjected, and the lowered importance he ended up giving to the life and well-being of those around him, can only have influenced the committing of the crimes.”
In November, an Italian court sentenced Brown to five years and eight months on the rape charge. Under Italian law, he won’t be jailed while his case is under appeal, Marchesini said. He is “considered a free man” by the Italian legal system until the court of appeals in Venice makes a ruling on his case, Marchesini said. That appeal isn’t likely to be heard in Italian court for another year or two, Marchesini said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Brown, who served at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy, is being held in the U.S. military detention facility in Mannheim, Germany, pending his discharge, said Maj. Carl Fehrenbacher, a Southern European Task Force spokesman.
Brown could walk away from his prison sentence in Italy — at least temporarily — when he is discharged by the Army this year. Once he receives his discharge papers, he no longer will be a steward of the U.S. military, and can return to the U.S. as he waits out the appeal.
Brown faced eight years’ confinement for raping a Nigerian woman in Vicenza in February 2004, three days after he returned from a yearlong stint in Iraq. The 508th Infantry Regiment is the 173rd Airborne Regiment’s primary deployable unit and answered to SETAF during a recently completed tour in Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, another SETAF spokesman, said Brown has been held at the Army’s discretion in Mannheim. The facility is Europe’s only U.S. military detention facility and currently houses some 70 prisoners.
Numerous factors, including flight risk, were taken into account when the decision was made to confine Brown after the conviction, O’Hara said.
He stressed that Brown’s fate with the Army is still being decided, and he would not say if an Army decision would come before or after a decision is made on the Italian appeal.
Marchesini said he filed an appeal because he believes Brown was convicted unjustly.
The woman he was charged of raping was a prostitute, Marchesini contends. Brown set out that Saturday night for a few drinks and to celebrate his return from Iraq.
“He thought he was frequenting a prostitute,” Marchesini said. “She denied she was a prostitute, but the court ruled she was a prostitute. Still, at the last moment, she did not want to have sex, and the court ruled the sex was not consensual.”
Brown beat and handcuffed the Nigerian woman, raped her, and left her to wander the streets naked in search of help.
If the appeals court upholds the conviction, Brown will have to serve the sentence in an Italian prison.
Stars and Stripes reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz contributed to this story.