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JEONJU, South Korea — A taxi driver said in a South Korean court Tuesday that he offered his American passengers the fares in his collection box to try to get them to stop beating and choking him during an attack earlier this year.

Prosecutors say two U.S. airmen stationed at Kunsan Air Base and a civilian who worked there attacked Lee Ki-jung, 48, and tried to steal his car near the base in late April.

Airman 1st Class Michael Carpenter, 27, and Airman Travis Martens, 24, both Security Forces personnel, and Paul Chessbro, a 21-year-old who worked at an on-base health-products store, are charged in the incident.

Lee testified Tuesday that the men changed their destination several times and directed him to a dead-end street in an apartment complex under construction. When he asked where they wanted to go, one of his passengers grabbed him from behind and began choking him, while someone else began pounding the right side of his head, Lee said.

Lee escaped the chokehold and exited the car, but was stopped and beaten by at least one of the men, he said. He said he couldn’t identify the attackers because of the severity of the attack, but said the tallest one — indicating Martens — beat him with a flashlight.

Lee was hospitalized for nerve damage and head, knee and other injuries until May 4.

A tenant in the apartment complex, Lee Dong-bin, testified that he witnessed the beating from his 13th floor balcony while smoking a cigarette. He said he couldn’t identify the suspects, but he saw the taxi driver being dragged by at least one man across the street, and the tallest man beating him heavily.

Each defendant was represented by a different attorney.

Martens’ attorney disputed which passenger threw punches at Lee in the car, and said that Lee gave police and prosecutors contradictory statements.

The prosecutor said that during his first statement, given the day after the attack at the police office, Lee claimed two men beat him. But in a later statement, the attorney said, Lee changed his story to say that he was attacked by three men.

Lee countered Tuesday that he had to leave the hospital to give police his first statement, and was ill and wanted to get back to the hospital as quickly as possible that day.

The two airmen and Chessbro gave conflicting accounts of the incident during a court proceeding last month. Chessbro, who was sitting in the front seat, said he tried to protect the driver from Martens, who was sitting in the back seat.

Martens said he grabbed the driver because he appeared to be reaching for a weapon during a heated discussion in Korean with Chessbro, who is half-Korean.

Carpenter said the other two men wanted to steal the car, and Chessbro threatened to hit him when Carpenter told him it was a bad idea. Carpenter said he walked away from the attack because he didn’t want to watch it and feared for his safety if he tried to stop it.

Prosecutors say he was acting as a lookout.

The case is scheduled to resume on Sept. 11.


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