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A U.S. soldier, convicted of rape by an Italian court in November and sentenced to nearly six years in prison, could be a free man later this summer.

In an unusual twist, James Michael Brown — whose rank is unknown — received leniency for his original sentence from the Italian judges due to the “prolonged psychological stress” he endured during his yearlong tour in Iraq. Now, he could walk away from his prison sentence — at least temporarily — when he is discharged by the Army.

Brown, who served at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy, is sitting in the U.S. military detention facility in Mannheim, Germany, pending his discharge, said Maj. Carl Fehrenbacher, a Southern European Task Force spokesman.

In November, an Italian court sentenced Brown to five years and eight months on the rape charge, but under Italian law, he won’t be jailed while his case is under appeal, according to his Italian attorney, Antonio Marchesini. That appeal isn’t likely to be heard in Italian court for another year or two, Marchesini said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

In Brown’s sentencing document, the court wrote: “the prolonged psychological stress to which the accused was subjected, and the lowered importance he ended up giving to the life and well-being of those around him, can only have influenced the committing of the crimes,” according to a Reuters news report. Marchesini confirmed that the report is accurate.

Marchesini said the defense didn’t use Brown’s stint in Iraq to seek leniency in the case or justify the crime. But the soldier’s wartime experience played to the sympathy of the court.

After his conviction, Brown was returned to U.S. custody. But once he receives his discharge papers, Brown no longer will be a steward of the U.S. military, and can return to the U.S. as he waits out the appeal. He is “considered a free man” by the Italian legal system until the court of appeals in Venice makes a ruling on his case, Marchesini said.

Brown faced eight years’ confinement for raping a Nigerian woman in Vicenza in February 2004, three days after he returned from a yearlong stint in Iraq.

Marchesini said he filed an appeal because he believes Brown was convicted unjustly. The woman he was charged of raping was a prostitute, Marchesini contends. Brown set out that Saturday night for a few drinks and to celebrate his return from Iraq.

“He thought he was frequenting a prostitute,” Marchesini said. “She denied she was a prostitute, but the court ruled she was a prostitute. Still, at the last moment, she did not want to have sex, and the court ruled the sex was not consensual.”

According to the Reuters report, Brown beat and handcuffed the Nigerian woman, raped her, and left her to wander the streets naked in search of help.

If the appeals court upholds the conviction, Brown will have to serve the sentence in an Italian prison.

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