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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A military judge sentenced a 7th Fleet sailor Thursday to five years in prison — more than double what prosecutors had sought — for performing oral sex on a sleeping shipmate.

Cmdr. John Maksym superseded prosecutors’ argument for two years in prison and defense arguments for six months, saying that defendant Fonzay Knight, a 26-year-old seaman on the USS John S. McCain, had preyed on his shipmate and failed to show remorse for his crime.

The sentence came as a surprise to those in the courtroom, who just minutes before had heard Knight give a statement that impressed even prosecutors as one of the most “eloquent” they had ever heard.

The statement included the story of his mother’s death when he was 2, his own sexual abuse by a cousin and a minister, learning that the man he thought was his father was not, and his effort to be “tougher and stronger to face challenges life delivers without warning.”

Lt. Kimball Call, one of Knight’s defense lawyers, had told the judge that six months’ confinement would suffice to serve justice, protect sailors and deter future similar crimes, and would make his client a better man through reflection and counseling. “Six months is … a growing season. The seeds grow and sprout and bear fruit. He needs those six months. That’s all he needs,” Call said.

Still, Call said later, the sentence was not completely unexpected.

Knight also was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank to E-1 and pay forfeiture. He was taken to the base brig, where he’ll stay until he’s transferred to a military prison in California.

Maksym on Wednesday found Knight guilty of forcible sodomy of a petty officer first class from the McCain. The petty officer, a married man in his 30s who’d befriended the younger sailor, told investigators he had awakened in his Darwin, Australia, hotel room April 26, after a night of heavy drinking during a port call, to find Knight performing oral sex on him. He was horrified, he said, and pushed Knight away.

Later, he tearfully told another shipmate that something had happened with Knight and soon an investigation was initiated.

Knight told investigators he thought the sex was consensual, although he admitted that the petty officer was asleep.

According to military law, force is inherent in any sexual assault in which a victim is asleep or otherwise cannot give consent, and penetration occurs.

Call said Thursday that defense attorneys will ask the convening authority for the court-martial, Commander Naval Forces Japan, for clemency.

Call said they’d seek to have the sentence reduced to two years’ confinement, the same sentence the prosecution had asked for.

Military judges are given wide latitude in sentencing, unlike civilian judges who must conform to strict statutory guidelines.

But in the military justice code, forcible sodomy, for example, may be punished by anything from no confinement to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Military judges’ sentences and verdicts are reviewed by convening authorities, which have the power to set aside convictions and reduce sentences, but not to increase them.

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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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