Geodana’s, a popular military dance bar in the Honch nightclub district near Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, posts a sign referencing gang activity.

Geodana’s, a popular military dance bar in the Honch nightclub district near Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, posts a sign referencing gang activity. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA, Japan — The saga of the Jan. 4, 2005, gang beating ended Thursday with a suspended sentence for Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeremy Lamont Hill, one of two U.S. sailors accused of conspiring against a former member of the Crips.

Judge Setsuo Fukushima of the Yokohama District Court in Yokosuka found Hill, 28, guilty of bodily injury Thursday. Last week, the judge found Petty Officer 3rd Class Alenuis Denaro Lee, 24, guilty of the same crime. The judgment comes after eight months in the legal system.

Both sailors got the same sentence — two years imprisonment with forced labor, suspended for four years. According to Japanese penal code, the maximum punishment for bodily injury is 15 years’ imprisonment with forced labor.

Fukushima’s reason for suspending the sentences was due in part to the “social punishment” that a dishonorable discharge would bear on the sailors’ future in the United States, he said.

The type of discharge will be decided by the sailors’ commanding officer, said Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman Cmdr. John Wallach last week. The sailors will not be in Japan for the four years of probation set out in the sentence, as all military personnel convicted in Japanese court are sent back to the United States 30 days after the final judgment is made, he said.

The assault on Curtis Brown, a 30-year-old retired Navy man, was “serious,” Fukushima said. Four “friends” — alleged members of the Crips gang — lured Brown from his house, saying they were taking him to a club. Brown was a former Crips member who was trying to clean up his act, but one of the gang members — a Navy sailor about to be discharged back to the States — held a grudge against him, Brown testified.

The four men stopped the car on a Hayama street and took turns beating and kicking Brown in the head and body. The assailants left Brown unclothed and unconscious, and he was hospitalized for a month after the attack. Brown still has trouble with his vision and memory, according to prosecutor Sayaka Matsuno.

Hill was “pleased” with the outcome of the trial, he said.

“I feel blessed,” Hill said after the verdict. “I’m glad it’s over.”

But it’s not fair that Lee and Hill got the same sentence, Brown said. Hill apologized several times to both Brown and his wife and gave them $6,000 in compensation, Brown said, but Lee never said he was sorry or paid compensation.

“Hill tried to make amends,” Brown said. “Lee didn’t.”

Lee blamed his role in the attack on Hill and the other alleged assailants, saying he was “just following orders” under the hierarchy of the Crips. He received a death threat for exposing the truth, he testified in court last week.

People join the military to get away from gangs, Brown said, but end up back in to feel less like an “outsider.”

Brown has no plans to appeal either of the suspended sentences, as he wants to concentrate on other pursuits, such as enrolling in college and learning Japanese, he said.

“This has been a long fight,” Brown said. “I’m ready to move on with my life.”

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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