Sailor receives suspended sentence in gang-related beating in Japan
Stars and Stripes March 18, 2006
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Alenius Denaro Lee was found guilty of participating in a gang-affiliated beating of a retired Navy sailor last year but won’t serve any jail time as his sentence was suspended in a Japanese courtroom Thursday.
But Lee, 24, could serve an additional two years imprisonment with forced labor if he commits another crime in Japan within four years, the court ordered. The Japanese penal code sets the maximum sentence for bodily injury at 15 years imprisonment. The sentence was handed down in the Yokohama District Court branch in Yokosuka City.
Judge Setsuo Fukushima called Lee a “secondary” player in the Jan. 4, 2005, beating of Curtis Brown in Hayama. Concern for the safety of Lee’s family and the impact of a dishonorable discharge from the Navy also factored into Fukushima’s decision, he said.
Lee testified earlier that he was “just following orders” under the hierarchy of the Crips, one of the oldest U.S. gangs, and that he received a death threat for exposing the truth.
“I got a letter that said ‘Die, snitch! We know where you and your family are,’” Lee told the court Thursday. “I’ve been in the brig for safe-keeping.”
Lee was accompanied by military police at the trial. He was being held in Yokosuka Naval Base’s pre-trial confinement facility after an unauthorized absence during the trial, according to Cmdr. John Wallach, spokesman, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan.
A military court also has ordered that Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeremy Lamont Hill, also tried for the same crime, have no contact with Lee. Hill, 28, is to receive his sentence March 23.
Previous testimony contended that Brown was attacked by a total of four assailants, but two of the attackers left Japan before the indictment.
Lee’s attorney, Midori Tanaka, argued that Lee had “no choice” but to be the first of four people to attack Brown after luring him from his home with promises to take him to a club.
“The subordinates follow the leaders in the gang group,” Tanaka said. “If Lee didn’t do it, he was in high risk of danger.”
Brown was trying to get out of the Crips and one of the Crips leaders in the attack had a grudge against him, Brown said after Hill’s trial Wednesday.
“I was trying to do the right thing, and look where it got me,” he said. Brown was hospitalized for one month after the attack and still had trouble with his vision and memory 10 months later, said Prosecutor Sayaka Matsuno. She characterized the attack as “vicious” and “well-planned.”
“This crime is serious and the victim feels that Lee should be seriously punished,” Matsuno said in her closing argument.
But Lee was exuberant after the verdict was read Thursday, shaking hands and hugging his attorney.
That was hard to watch, said Brown’s wife, Terumi, after the trial.
“It’s frustrating to see [Lee’s] joyful face after the verdict,” Terumi Brown said. “I wished for a punishment that will make him remorseful; be it one month or even a day in jail.”
Unlike Hill, who gave Brown $6,000 compensation, Lee offered nothing unless Brown dropped the charges, she said.
She called the suspended sentence “meaningless,” as Lee will be sent back to the United States before the four years mentioned in the suspended sentence expires.
Lee will leave Japan 30 days after the final disposition in accord with CNFJ policy on convicted criminals, Wallach said.
Whether Lee will be discharged and under what circumstances is up to Lee’s commanding officer, Capt. Greg Cornish, he added.
“The CO will weigh all factors and determine the appropriate action,” Wallach said.
The U.S.-Japan status of forces agreement does have provisions for victims’ compensation, he said.