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A Japanese court handed a schoolteacher from Misawa Air Base a 16-month prison sentence on Friday for stealing religious statues from eight shrines during a two-year theft spree.

But the Aomori District Court, 45 miles northwest of the air base in northern Japan, suspended that sentence to a three-year probation period for Christian Gray, 33, a special-education teacher at Misawa’s Sollars Elementary School.

According to court documents, Judge Takeyuki Yuki cited Gray for committing eight thefts at area shrines to display the religious items at his home for personal enjoyment.

Such a motive can only be rooted in selfishness, Yuki said prior to sentencing.

The court reasoned that Gray’s capacity to comply “had substantial problems and is subject to harsh censure. There are victims that are asking for strict punishment. The defendant carries great criminal responsibility.”

Prosecutors had asked for a two-year prison sentence.

Gray admitted he took religious statues from eight area shrines between Jan. 22, 2001, and Feb. 2, 2003. The items were valued collectively at 750,000 yen, or $6,522.

Gray was detained in a Noheji, Japan, jail for more than a month following his Feb. 3 arrest. The court acknowledged that Gray admitted to the crimes without protest and showed deep remorse. Also, he had no previous criminal record, the court noted.

Tom La Rue, Sollars principal, pledged to supervise Gray.

Without clarifying the defendant’s responsibility, Yuki said the court decided that Gray should be given an opportunity to reform.

Following his arrest, Gray was placed on leave without pay by Department of Defense Dependents Schools officials. His future with DODDS remains unclear.

“We do have administrative guidelines for addressing disciplinary or misconduct that occurs off base, and there will be discussions concerning his disposition,” said Steven Won, a labor-relations specialist with the DODDS Japan District on Okinawa.

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