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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Will punishing a father’s crimes further harm the family?

That’s what Capt. Carol Gaasch, the military judge, must decide as she considers the sentence for a Fleet Reserve sailor convicted of the long-term sexual abuse of his daughter.

On Thursday in the courtroom of Yokosuka’s Trial Service Office, Gaasch listened to the prosecutor, who asked that the sailor’s punishment be a dishonorable discharge and seven years’ confinement: “One year for every year he abused her,” Lt. Stella Lane said.

Gaasch listened to the defense: “Any more than four years’ confinement would be unduly harsh,” said Lt. Sylvaine Wong. “A dishonorable discharge will hurt the family.”

Gaasch listened to the defendant, 41, a petty officer first class with a previously spotless record, as he explained his own family background — of poverty and chaos — and his alcoholism following retirement from the Navy and financial pressures.

He also expressed his remorse: “I see now I’ve ruined everything,” he said. “To say I’m ashamed and disgusted … those aren’t even the right words.”

Sentences are often handed down in courts-martial the same day the case is presented, but after listening to both sides, Gaasch said she wanted time to review the case. She plans to pronounce the sentence on Friday.

One issue is the impact of the sailor’s possible sentence. A punitive discharge — either dishonorable or bad conduct — and prison time results in total forfeiture of pay and allowances during the period of confinement, according to the Manual for Courts-Martial.

That’s why the sailor’s wife and daughter wrote the court to ask for leniency, Lane said, not because they really felt he deserved it.

The sailor discredited the Navy and should be dishonorably discharged, Lane argued, no matter the financial impact on the family. “The family will suffer the consequences of his misconduct,” she said.

But Wong said her client had served the Navy honorably for 20 years before he retired in 2000 and joined the Fleet Reserve, and that if he’d been tried in a Japanese court, he would not be facing loss of pay. “Yes, [the sailor’s wife] is worried about retirement pay,” Wong said. “She has a family to support.”

Wong told the judge her client deserved no more than four years in prison because he had cooperated, shown remorse, and was a good candidate for rehabilitation, and because his daughter, now 17, was by all reports doing well. “It does matter what the circumstances were and what the effects have been,” Wong said.

Despite the lawyers’ arguments, the sailor’s maximum sentence has already been decided as part of a plea agreement that spared his daughter having to testify at a trial.

The sailor, his defense and prosecutors negotiated the sentence with the court-martial convening authority, Commander, Naval Forces Japan, in return for his guilty pleas.

The sailor pleaded guilty earlier this month to indecent acts (sexual touching) and forcible sodomy (oral sex) perpetrated on his daughter when she was between 14 and 16. Prosecutors dropped rape charges and their contention that the abuse had started when the girl was 12 or younger.

Gaasch is unaware of what the agreed-upon sentence is. After she decides a sentence, it will be compared with the one in the plea agreement. The sailor will receive the lesser of the two.

The statutory maximum for forcible sodomy is life in prison without parole. The maximum penalty for indecent acts against a child is seven years. But with the prosecutor arguing for seven years, and the defense for four, it seems clear that the sailor’s actual sentence will be far less than the maximum.

The sailor, whose name is not being used to protect his daughter’s privacy, was subject to court-martial because he was in the Fleet Reserve. He has been in the brig since September, after his daughter disclosed the abuse and a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent questioned him.

His wife of 21 years has visited him weekly, he told the judge.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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