Judges continue Marine major's attempted-rape case indefinitely
October 2, 2003
NAHA, Okinawa — Marine Maj. Michael Brown returned to his room in Camp Courtney’s bachelor quarters Tuesday without knowing when — or if — his trial for attempted rape will move forward.
The judges hearing the case continued it indefinitely and asked an independent three-judge panel to examine whether they’ve conducted Brown’s trial properly and rule on whether they should step down.
The sudden end to Tuesday’s Naha District Court hearing was but one more twist in a case full of surprises.
Brown, 40, on trial since his indictment Dec. 19, is accused of attempting to rape a Philippine barmaid when she gave him a late-night ride from the officers club to his off-base home Nov. 2. He also is charged with destroying her cell phone.
The woman, Victoria Nakamine, also 40, recanted her accusation when she testified in May, claiming police and prosecutors coerced her into signing statements against Brown that she did not understand. They were written in Japanese. Nakamine, married to a Japanese man for 19 years, nonetheless said she does not read Japanese writing and no adequate translation was offered.
In court Tuesday, Brown — dressed in a well-pressed dark-gray suit with a blue shirt, red print tie and sporting a “high-and-tight” Marine haircut — politely asked the three judges to recuse themselves.
He contended the court showed its prejudice against him by accepting statements Nakamine claims were concocted. The judges should have relied solely on her sworn testimony in court, he contended — in which she said Brown had not tried to rape her.
“I am very disappointed by the decision to accept into evidence those statements made to police and prosecutors outside this courtroom,” Brown said, reading from a handwritten statement.
“This follows a trend in decisions which leads me to believe the judges are siding with the prosecution,” he said. “I want a fair and impartial trial. We have proof that the prosecutor is using manufactured evidence for the purpose of deceiving the court.”
Earlier Tuesday, Brown’s lawyers called a handwriting and documents expert to testify that Nakamine’s “han” stamp and signature, on a power-of-attorney document authorizing her employer’s lawyer to act for her, actually had been manufactured on a computer.
“Han” stamps are official kanji stamps used as signatures on legal documents in Japan.
The court accepted Nakamine’s pretrial statements anyway — which, Brown said Tuesday, “reinforces my belief that police and prosecutors made up statements for my accuser to sign.”
He argued the judges should remove themselves “on the grounds that I am not receiving a fair trial.”
Defense attorney Toshimitsu Takaesu then also asked the judges to step down. He contended that police, prosecutors and Nakamine’s employer — Plenty Staff, a Japanese agency that provides temporary workers to Okinawa base clubs — conspired to try to prove the original prosecution was based on the woman’s free will.
One of the writing samples the expert examined was Nakamine’s handwritten denial she’d ever signed a power-of-attorney — which, Brown’s lawyer argued, “leads to doubt the credibility of statements made by police and the prosecution.”
That the judges accepted those statements, he argued, “indicates that the court holds a presumption of guilt of the defendant. … We would say that we could not get [a] fair trial.”
The trial judges then spoke privately, emerging to announce that the proceedings would be suspended while three other judges considered Brown’s argument.
If the review judges rule the original trial judges should continue hearing the case, Takaesu said after Tuesday’s hearing, he will appeal to a higher court.
The trial judges and prosecutors had no other comments Tuesday but, after the hearing, Brown co-counsel Michael Griffith of New York said: “What the prosecution has done in this case is shameful. … After the victim testified that nothing had happened … any court in the world, except this court, would have withdrawn the charge.”
Brown, assigned to the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force command element, was released on bail after serving 149 days in confinement at Naha Detention Center.
He is restricted to Camp Courtney.
His wife and two children are visiting family in the United States.