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YOKOHAMA, Japan — A Japanese judge, saying that “this time they should be forgiven,” suspended the sentences of two USS Kitty Hawk sailors convicted of ditching a dining tab and beating up the restaurant manager who chased after them.

Seaman Brian Matthew Burgess, 21, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey Joe Turner, 24, received three-year prison sentences with hard labor but will not do time unless they get in trouble in Japan in the next five years, Judge Kenichi Kurita said Tuesday in Yokohama District Court.

“Given the circumstances, the court finds them upstanding youths, and they have a future,” Kurita said. “Prison would be too severe.”

The sailors did not contest the charge of robbery resulting in bodily injury. The incident occurred just hours after their aircraft carrier returned to port at Yokosuka Naval Base on Dec. 10.

According to testimony, Burgess, Turner and another sailor racked up a 24,350-yen bar tab — about $205 — at Kamakura’s Seedless Restaurant and tried to leave without paying the full tab.

When the 41-year-old manager chased after them, the sailors turned and assaulted him, punching and kicking him in the face. The manager caught Burgess and turned him over to police. Turner ran and was indicted Feb. 8.

The sailors testified they were too drunk to remember much of the assault.

“This is unacceptable,” Kurita told the sailors. “As members of the armed forces, you are instructed to abide by rules of discipline, especially when drinking. But you didn’t.

“There are an increasing number of crimes committed by drunken American military members,” the judge said. “We need to take this seriously.”

That said, the court opted to suspend the sentences because the sailors admitted guilt, paid the victim 1.25 million yen — about $10,550 — and were subject to punishment under the military system.

The charge carries a minimum six-year sentence, but Japanese judges have the discretion to cut the time in half — and any sentence under three years can be suspended, according to a Commander, Naval Forces Japan legal expert.

It is CNFJ policy to send sailors stateside after they have been convicted of a crime in Japan.

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