Pacific edition, Thursday, June 7, 2007

NAHA, Okinawa — He cut his friend’s throat to save the man’s life.

That’s the excuse Marine Sgt. Michael Avinger, 30, gave in a Japanese court Tuesday during his trial for wounding a man during a vicious mugging on Hamahiga Island last October.

Avinger testified that he was afraid another friend, Darian Preston Daniels, 29, the husband of a sailor, would kill the man if he didn’t act first.

Avinger and Daniels both are being tried for committing a robbery involving an injury in the nighttime attack Oct. 25. Both men pleaded not guilty to conspiring to lure Bryant White, 23, a former airman, to the island in order to rob him.

However, Avinger admitted he did cut White’s throat.

At the opening session of the trial May 1, White testified that he was lured to the island on the promise the three men, who worked for a furniture store located near Camp Courtney, would meet some women.

But soon after they arrived, he said, Avinger grabbed him from behind and pressed a knife to his throat and Daniels demanded money.

When he protested that he didn’t have any, Avinger cut his throat and the two men rummaged through his pockets, stealing his wallet, passport and a cell phone, White claimed.

Then the two men tossed him in some bushes and left him to die, he said during his testimony.

On the stand Tuesday, Avinger, who referred to Daniels as “D” and White as “B,” denied he intended to rob White. As he testified, Daniels, sitting on a bench with three guards just 10 feet from the witness stand, glowered at him.

Avinger said he thought they had lured White to the island to confront him about rumors being spread about Daniels possessing marijuana.

“I knew D wanted to beat B up,” he told the three-judge panel in Naha District Court. “I figured if they had to fight I wanted to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.”

But they quickly did.

Once they got to the island, Avinger said Daniels seemed frustrated and irritable.

“So I asked him, ‘Do you want to scare him?’ and he nodded yes,” Avinger said. “And if scaring him was going to prevent them from fighting, that was OK.”

That’s when Avinger grabbed White from behind and put a knife to his throat, he said.

“I was going to ask him if he was the one spreading the rumors,” Avinger said, “but then D stepped in front and he asked him where’s the money that Kiki threw at him.”

According to White’s testimony at the first hearing, Daniels was with him several days earlier when White’s wife, Kiki, kicked him out of their Okinawa city home, throwing a large amount of cash at him as he left.

Daniels’ demand for money was the first indication that robbery might be the real reason White had been lured to the island, Avinger said. Then he heard Daniels click open a switchblade knife and approach White.

“I felt if I just let go Daniels would go for him,” Avinger said. “I felt I could control things better by holding White with my knife at his throat.”

He said he heard White tell Daniels the money was in a leather coat back at his home. Daniels appeared to become more agitated, he said.

“I was trying to figure a way to get Mr. White out of there,” Avinger said. “That’s when I cut him.”

“Why?” the prosecutor asked.

“I was intending a flesh wound to make Daniels believe it was a deeper wound,” Avinger said, explaining that he thought that with his Marine training he knew how to cut someone without killing him.

“But I cut him worse than I planned,” he said.

White said he played dead while Daniels went through his pockets and as the two men threw him into bushes and fled. Bleeding profusely, White later staggered to a nearby home and asked for help. He was treated for five days in Chubu Hospital in Uruma. The wound left a 7-inch scar across his neck.

The next hearing is set for Tuesday, when Daniels is expected to testify.

Avinger was to be cross-examined by the defense Tuesday, but at the last minute Daniels’ lawyer said his client wanted to do the questioning himself and had compiled a list of 170 questions.

Since only 30 minutes remained for Tuesday’s hearing, the judges set that questioning to take place on June 26.

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