Marine major in Okinawan custody after indictment on sex crime charge
By DAVID ALLEN AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 21, 2002
NAHA, Okinawa — A Marine major arrested more than a week ago is in Japanese custody after being indicted Thursday for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman Nov. 2 near Camp Courtney.
Maj. Michael J. Brown, 39, escorted by military police, turned himself in at the Naha Detention Center about 2:45 p.m., three hours after he was indicted in Naha District Court on charges of attempted rape and destruction of private property.
He had been restricted to the Marine base following the Dec. 3 filing of a warrant for his arrest.
The case renewed calls from Okinawans for changes in the status of forces agreement between the United States and Japan after U.S. officials refused to hand Brown over to Japanese police prior to indictment.
When asked why prosecutors waited 10 days to indict Brown after police filed charges on Dec. 9, Deputy Chief Prosecutor Junichi Okumura told reporters he had wanted to give Brown a chance to say he was sorry.
“We wanted to allow ample time and opportunity for the suspect to negotiate with the victim,” Okumura said. He added that sexual assault cases “are indictable only on the claim of the victim.”
“If the victim drops the charge, that’s it,” he said. “Therefore, it would not have been fair to deny him the opportunity to negotiate jidan with the victim.”
“But after waiting for 10 days, we have determined that there is no indication that the suspect has taken any action to arrange jidan,” Okumura said.
Jidan is the Japanese custom of apologizing to an injured party regardless of whether guilt is admitted. The carefully worded apologies and monetary compensation go a long way toward convincing judges of the sincerity of a defendant’s remorse and often result in reduced sentences in criminal cases, Japanese legal experts have said.
That’s especially important in the Japanese legal system, where the conviction rate for cases that go to trial exceeds 95 percent.
And in cases involving sexual assault, out-of-court jidan settlements often lead to the women dropping the charges, Japanese legal experts have said.
It was unclear Thursday what attempt, if any, Brown had made to offer jidan. In the days leading up to the indictment, he could not be reached for comment.
Marine officials say they have assisted Brown during the investigative process and will continue to provide legal help in the future.
“Maj. Brown has received the advice, counsel and support of his immediate chain of command,” including a military legal adviser, said Marine 1st Lt. Amy Malugani in a statement released Thursday night. Also working to “identify and protect his interest,” Malugani said, are authorities at Headquarters, U.S. Forces in Japan; the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo; and the departments of State and Defense.
“That support will continue,” said Malugani, a media relations officer. “The U.S. has an obligation to safeguard the legal rights of its service members stationed overseas, while also respecting the laws of the host country.”
Brown, a 19-year Marine veteran assigned to the command element of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Courtney, is charged with sexually assaulting a longtime foreign resident of Japan who worked at the officers club on base.
According to Okinawan police, the woman, whom they have refused to identify, picked up Brown in her car near the back gate to Camp Courtney after the club had closed. Brown told police he was walking to his off-base home nearby and accepted the ride because he felt he had consumed too much alcohol to drive.
They both said they had met each other for the first time earlier that night, according to police.
The woman claimed Brown directed her to a deserted road near a small stream and attacked her. According to preliminary police reports, she said she fought him off and ran from the car. She returned a few minutes later and he attacked her again, according to the police report. When she picked up her cellular phone to call police, the woman said, Brown grabbed it and threw it into the river.
That is why the major is also charged with destruction of private property, a police spokesman said.
The woman reported the incident to a Japanese gate guard, and military and local police were alerted.
Military police fully cooperated in the investigation, Okumura, the prosecutor, said.
Brown, who is married and has two children, has denied assaulting the woman. He underwent several days of questioning at a police station in Gushikawa and accompanied investigators to the alleged crime scene to re-create the incident.
He also complied with a police search warrant of his home and office.
An Okinawan police spokesman said investigators took several pieces of clothing and other items as evidence.
Some members of Brown’s family in the United States told Stars and Stripes that Brown contends the woman propositioned him and became angry when he refused her request. She grabbed his wallet, which he had placed on the dashboard, and told him to get out of the car, they said.
When he attempted to retrieve his wallet, they struggled briefly and he instead grabbed her cellular phone and threw it away, said Brown’s older brother in Maryland.
The woman then drove away but returned later and threw his wallet back at him, Brown told his family.
An Okinawan police officer working the case said investigators had found Brown’s story implausible.
“We find no fault with the woman’s story,” he said.
The prosecutor echoed that sentiment Thursday.
“The suspect continues to deny his guilt,” Okumura said. “However, the Naha District prosecutor’s office has determined that his statement is false and that there is sufficient evidence to prove his guilt at trial.”
He said Brown has “partially” admitted to breaking the woman’s cellular phone.
Police have confirmed the woman is a foreign national in her 40s who is married to an Okinawan and has lived here for more than 20 years.
“She has no intention of dropping the charges as of today, so we decided it was time to indict and the situation is unlikely to change,” Okumura said Thursday. “The victim wishes strict punishment in this case.”
He did not comment on what the maximum punishment for attempted rape would be.
Brown has 13 months to go before reaching the 20-year mark in the Marine Corps, the minimum service required for full retirement benefits. He entered as an enlisted man when he was 20.