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Pacific edition, Thursday, August 30, 2007

NAHA, Okinawa — The man who cut Bryant White’s throat last October says the former airman should thank him for being alive.

“If he knew what actually happened that night, he’d be grateful to me,” Marine Sgt. Michael Avinger, 30, said Tuesday in Naha General District Court. “He’s still here today because of what I did.”

What he did was slit White’s throat and help a co-defendant, Darian Preston Daniels, 29, toss his body into the bushes and leave him to die, White has testified. The assault, described by the prosecution as a botched robbery, took place Oct. 25 in an isolated area of Hamahiga Island.

At an earlier hearing, White, 23, testified that Avinger and Daniels, who worked with him as furniture deliverymen, lured him to the island with the promise of meeting girls.

Once there, White said, Avinger grabbed him from behind and placed a knife to his throat, while Daniels demanded a large amount of money he believed White was carrying.

When he told them he did not have it, Avinger cut his throat, pushed him to the ground and Daniels rummaged through his pockets, White said.

Daniels, being tried separately, said the meeting was for a drug deal between Avinger and White and that knifing happened when the deal went bad.

During Tuesday’s proceedings, Avinger, assigned to Camp Schwab, stuck to a much different version of events. He said Daniels wanted to engage White in a fistfight, because White was spreading rumors about him dealing drugs.

Avinger said put the knife White’s throat in an attempt to get him to admit he’d been spreading the rumors.

“I didn’t want them to fight,” he said. “Daniels would have beat White pretty bad. I had seen him put two guys in the hospital.”

While he was holding White, he heard Daniels’ knife click open, Avinger said. “I believe I could control the situation better,” Avinger said, adding that he didn’t want to be forced into a confrontation with Daniels.

“It would have been a life-or-death fight,” he said. “Once he took a step forward to Mr. White, I knew something had to be done. I only meant to inflict a flesh wound and pushed him to the ground to make it seem worse.

“But I cut him deeper than I meant to,” he said.

Avinger said he was a skilled knife fighter and claimed he had killed a suicide bomber in Iraq.

White managed to crawl out of the bushes after his attackers fled and stumbled to a house down the road to call for help. He was hospitalized for five days and has a 7-inch scar across his throat.

Tuesday’s proceedings ended the evidence phase of Avinger’s trial. Final arguments are set for Oct. 2.

Final arguments in the case against Daniels are set for Sept. 25.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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