Prosecutors: Rope prank had obvious potential to cause injury
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — During closing arguments Friday, prosecutors recommended a two- to three-year prison sentence for an American teenager they insisted set out to hurt people when he strung a rope across a street near Yokota Air Base, injuring a motorist.
The 19-year-old defendant, the son of a U.S. Air Force officer based at Yokota, has been contrite throughout this summer’s trial proceedings but has called the incident a prank gone wrong, not a deliberate attempt to injure anyone.
“I’m very sorry for what’s happened,” he said Friday at Tokyo District Court in Tachikawa. “I respect the Japanese people very much.”
But prosecutors asked how the man — who still lives with his parents on Yokota and once had plans to enlist in the Air Force — could stretch a rope, pulled taut and low to the ground, across a dark street late at night and not expect it to cause an injury.
The defendant maintained, as he has throughout the trial, that he thought cars would see the rope and turn around.
A 23-year-old Japanese woman on a scooter hit the rope. She suffered a fractured skull, spent 17 days in the hospital and was out of work for two months following the crash. Though she has not testified in court, two statements written by the woman have been read in open court.
She described the headaches and cognitive losses she has experienced since the August 2009 incident and asked the three-judge court for the “severest sentence.”
“It’s a miracle that I’m alive,” she said through her attorney Friday. And in a courtroom peppered with Japanese anti-base activists, she stated her wish for all American servicemembers to leave Japan.
“We don’t need U.S. servicemembers and civilians who hurt people,” she said.
Her attorney recommended a sentence of three to five years in prison with labor.
Three other American teenagers from Yokota initially connected to the incident were cleared in late 2009.
The defense contended that because the three escaped punishment in both family and criminal courts, that the defendant, who is still considered a minor under Japanese law, should be sent to family court. He was 18 at the time of the incident and would be subject to a more lenient punishment in family court.
The defendant is charged with bodily injury and obstruction of traffic and faces a maximum 15-year sentence if convicted.
The three-judge panel that has been presiding over the trial is expected to issue a ruling Nov. 17.