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NAHA, Okinawa — Air Force Staff Sgt. Armando Valdez was sentenced Thursday to 18 months of hard labor, suspended for four years, for molesting a 10-year-old Okinawa girl in July.

Valdez, 27, pleaded guilty in September to charges of trespassing and forcing an indecent act on a child younger than 18.

He was accused of luring the girl into a parking garage at her Okinawa City home on July 3, placing his hand inside her pants, touching her abdomen, then forcing her to roll up her T-shirt so he could photograph her breasts with his cell phone camera.

The 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron airman stood before the three-judge panel in Naha General District Court, his hands clasped behind his back, listening silently to Chief Judge Nobuyuki Yokota.

Valdez “committed this act of indecency to satisfy his sexual urge,” Yokota said through a translator. “It was a heinous act. The emotional and psychological damage to the victim was extremely severe.”

The offense was compounded, Yokota said, by “also taking photographs of several other young girls, which showed his interest in young girls (was) of a sexual nature.”

“The impact this act by a member of the American military had on the community cannot be ignored,” the judge said.

He said he suspended the sentence because Valdez had no prior criminal record, readily admitted the charges, apologized to the victim and paid 100,000 yen (about $840) in compensation.

“However, you cannot commit any other crimes for four years or else you will go to prison,” he added.

“It is disappointing that the sentence was suspended,” said Suzuyo Takazato of the Okinawa Rape Emergency Intervention Counseling Center. Its members monitor sex-crime trials involving U.S. servicemembers.

Although Valdez’s supervisor testified his work behavior was good, Takazato said, Valdez “has been here only for seven months. So what did he really know?”

Prosecutor Masahisa Yokota, (no relation to the judge), had sought an 18-month sentence with no part of it suspended. He said Valdez should go to prison to deter other U.S. servicemembers.

Valdez still faces possible Air Force administrative action, including discharge.

Dressed in beltless brown pants, a tan short-sleeve shirt and jail-issue plastic slippers, Valdez showed little emotion during Thursday’s 15-minute hearing. In October, he told the court he didn’t remember much of what happened the day of the incident. He said he he’d been drinking heavily the night before at a party, then continued drinking at several Okinawa City bars.

The incident took place about 8:25 a.m. on a Sunday morning. The victim and a friend, 9, were playing in front of the friend’s home when Valdez convinced them to go to the parking garage to be photographed.

“I made a mistake,” he told the three-judge panel. “I was intoxicated. I wish I really knew why I did this.”

Valdez, who is from Los Angeles, said at the October hearing he expected to be discharged from the Air Force and wanted to return to school and find a job to start a new life with his Japanese girlfriend, who is pregnant.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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