Marine charged in attempted rape gets new counsel
NAHA, Okinawa — Two outspoken critics of Japan’s legal system have taken over the defense of Marine Maj. Michael Brown.
Now representing Brown against charges he attempted to rape a woman who gave him a ride as he left Camp Courtney Nov. 2:
• Michael Griffith, a New York attorney and a persistent and pointed critic of how the U.S. military treats servicemembers accused of crimes in Japan. Griffith probably is best known for representing Billy Hayes, the real-life protagonist of the film “Midnight Express,” a young American subjected to harsh prison conditions in Turkey for smuggling hashish.
• Toshimitsu Takaesu, a former Okinawa chief prosecutor and a foreign law consultant for a Seattle law firm. After visiting Brown at Naha Detention Center on Monday, Takaesu said the family hired him to replace Okinawa attorney Masayuki Akamine, who could not be reached for comment.
The woman claims Brown asked for a ride home but instead directed her to a deserted road near the base and attacked her. Brown, 39, claims the woman was angry that he turned down her sexual advances.
Police have said Brown admitted he grabbed the woman’s cellular phone and threw it into a stream.
Brown was taken into custody Dec. 19 when he was indicted on charges of attempted rape and destruction of private property.
Both of his new attorneys were sharply critical of Japan’s legal system.
“It’s … rigged in favor of getting confessions and convictions,” Griffith said from his Southampton, N.Y., home Monday. “And U.S. military officials on Okinawa act as agents of the Japanese system, delivering [suspects] to Okinawa police and prosecutors who spend days interrogating them without the benefit of an attorney.”
U.S. military officials say they provide servicemembers with legal advice throughout the process.
“U.S. military officials cooperate with the Government of Japan in law enforcement matters,” stated a Marine public affairs spokesman in a written response to a query. “One way in which we cooperate is to make servicemembers available for interviews and interrogations. Likewise, the GOJ often assists US military law enforcement officials in investigating crimes over which we exercise jurisdiction.
“Although the Japanese legal system does not allow attorneys to be present during interrogations, US personnel may be represented throughout the judicial process by an attorney of their choice,” the statement concluded. “U.S. military officials assist servicemembers in obtaining an attorney and monitor cases to ensure that members rights are protected throughout the process.”
In Brown’s case, Griffith said, “No one’s interviewed potential witnesses. The background of the woman accusing the major has not been investigated. There are a lot of loose ends.”
Takaesu said, “We will fight to defend Major Brown and it will be a real battle — to show the court how a real trial should be conducted.
“Our approach in this case will be different from the prevailing procedures on Okinawa and the rest of Japan,” he said. “Through this case, we will fight to modernize Japan’s court system to bring it up to the international standards.”
Griffith has attacked the Japanese system for being slanted toward seeking convictions, often to the detriment of rights of the accused.
Takaesu worked for 19 years in the Okinawa prefectural prosecutor’s office, two as chief prosecutor. A frequent critic of Japan’s judicial system, he has worked with Griffith in the past.
“I visited Brown at the detention house yesterday together with his wife,” Takaesu said Tuesday. “I told him to sleep on making a decision on changing lawyers, because if I represent him, he might not get mercy from the court.
“This morning I received a letter signed by him, asking me to represent him.”
In 1995, Griffith was hired by the families of two Marines charged in the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl. The two Marines and a Navy medic were convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison — but Griffith calls it a victory because he was able to bring what he called inequities in the Japanese system to the public’s attention.
Griffith returned to the island in 1998 to assist in the defense of two Marines charged in an assault outside an Okinawa City bar. He and Takaesu were able to get bail and suspended sentences for the two Marines, who pleaded guilty to participating in the fight in which one of them broke a Japanese disc jockey’s jaw.
In both cases, Griffith attacked the Japanese judicial system. The attorney says his experience with Japan shows “few people get a fair shake when 99 percent of the cases result in conviction and 95 percent of the defendants sign confessions.”
In the past he has accused Marine officials of “advising defendants to plead guilty and then grovel for leniency in sentencing.”
Brown’s trial is to begin Feb. 13.
— Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.