Subscribe

NAHA, Okinawa — The first hearing for two Americans charged with slitting their friend’s throat during a robbery in October was marked by two surprises Tuesday.

When Marine Sgt. Michael Avinger, 30, and Darian Preston Daniels, 29, the husband of a sailor, were led into Naha District Court handcuffed and tethered to three guards each, most of those present expected a quick case.

After months of negotiations with the defense lawyers, the prosecutors had built their case on a foundation of expected guilty pleas.

But when the indictments were read, both Avinger and Daniels denied they ever conspired to rob and kill Bryant White, 23, a former airman, by luring him to an isolated island off Okinawa and cutting his throat.

The only admission was made by Avinger, who said he slashed White’s throat, but robbery was not involved.

The second surprise occurred when the three-judge panel allowed Daniels to personally cross-examine White.

Lead prosecutor Daisuke Tabuchi objected to the change of pleas, arguing that the presentation of evidence had been prepared based on the defendant’s indication of pleading guilty to robbery and assault involving a serious injury.

But Chief Judge Hiroyuki Yoshii ruled the pretrial negotiations were to discuss evidence to be presented at trial and the defense could not be held to an agreement to plead guilty before indictment.

White testified for more than five hours, once rising to show the judges the 7-inch scar across his neck.

He said he once worked with Daniels and Avinger moving furniture and considered them both friends. On Oct. 25, Daniels asked if he wanted to meet some girls later that night, White said.

White said he and Daniels met Avinger at a convenience store and followed Avinger in Daniels’ car.

Around 10:15 p.m. they were at a remote area of Hamahiga Island, supposedly waiting for the women, when Avinger grabbed White’s head from behind and pressed a knife to his throat, he said.

“There was no warning,” White said.

Daniels frowned at the testiony. Avinger, sitting behind White, showed no emotion.

“After he put the knife to my throat [Avinger] said, ‘Where’s it at? Give it up,’” White testified. “I didn’t understand right away what he was talking about. So I asked, ‘Give up what?’ and Daniels said, ‘The money.’”

White said Daniels, who was fired shortly before the incident, had been with him two days earlier when White got into an argument with his wife and she threw $2,000 in cash at him and told him to go away.

White said he told Avinger and Daniels that the money was back home in a jacket, even though he had tucked it the left rear pocket of his pants.

“I knew if I gave them the money there they’d kill me faster,” White said.

White said Daniels then made a slashing motion with his hand and Avinger pulled the knife across his throat.

Bleeding profusely, White was knocked to the ground and Daniels came over to rummage through his pockets, he said. But Daniels missed the stash of cash.

White said he then played dead as the pair dragged him to some bushes and threw him in.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said.

It was at that moment that Daniels and Avinger became spooked by an oncoming car and left, White said. He added he waited a few minutes and then stumbled to a nearby home and asked for help. He later spent five days in Chubu Hospital in Uruma.

During cross-examination, lawyers for each defendant sought to shift blame for the attack to the other defendant. Avinger’s lawyer, Yuji Fujita, pressed White on whether Avinger could have known he had been carrying the cash.

The next hearing is scheduled for May 24.

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

Victim takes stand, jabs back at defendant

Tuesday’s trial of two Americans accused of slitting their friend’s throat in an alleged botched robbery last October was not without a lighter moment.

When Darian Preston Daniels was given the rare opportunity to cross-examine his accuser personally, he rose from his bench seat and loomed over Bryant White, seated at the witness box. The two were separated by two uniformed guards.

Daniels attempted to attack White’s allegation that robbery was the motive for the Oct. 25 attack on Hamahiga Island. After White’s throat had been slashed by a co-defendant, Daniels allegedly went through his pockets looking for a large amount of money he believed White carried.

“Bryant, did I go through your pockets before I turned you over or after I turned you over?” Daniels asked.

“After,” White answered.

“Did I go through all your pockets?”

“No, you didn’t check the left rear pocket,” White said. Earlier he had testified that’s where he had stashed $2,000 in cash and said he laid on that hip to prevent it from being searched.

“If it was a robbery, wouldn’t a person want to check all of your pockets?” Daniels asked.

“Maybe the person wasn’t smart enough to check all of my pockets,” White said.

Daniels frowned, asked a few more questions and then returned to his seat.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up