U.S. contractor on Okinawa gets suspended sentence for having illegal weapons
Stars and Stripes August 25, 2006
NAHA — A U.S. civilian contractor at Torii Station received a suspended sentence Wednesday for having illegal antique rifles, swords and ammunition in his Yomitan home.
Delbert W. Spear, 46, who admitted to the charges, stood rigidly before Judge Naoyuki Fukushima as he listened to a court translator repeat in English the court decision. Fukushima sentenced Spear to three years in prison but suspended the punishment for five years on condition of Spear’s good behavior.
Prosecutors had sought a three-year prison term.
Spear was arrested May 22 and remained under Japanese custody until July 7.
According to evidence presented during the trial, Spear possessed four antique rifles, live ammunition and four swords. The ammunition was collected from a military live-fire training site on Okinawa as a part of Spear’s job.
Military regulations require disposal of all recovered ammunition in a designated container on Torii Station on the same day, Fukushima said, but Spear sometimes took the ammunition home.
“He thought that it was too much of a bother and started to store them at his home,” the judge said.
Fukushima said Spear obtained the rifles from foreign military services as souvenirs of joint exercises he had participated in while a member of the Army Special Forces. Spear retired in 2003.
Spear’s defense attorney, Miyatomi Harushima, had argued that the antiquated rifles were for home decoration and Spear kept the swords to give away as gifts.
“They were no more than those cheap imitations sold at souvenir stores on Okinawa,” Harushima contended.
Japan’s strict weapons control laws prohibit possessing any illegal firearm or blade longer than a few inches.
The Okinawa District Customs Office advised any American in Japan under the status of forces agreement who may unwittingly have brought an unauthorized weapon into Japan to contact his or her military authority and arrange to store it on a military base until leaving the country.
“Keeping illegal antique rifles as home decoration is disrespectful to Japan’s laws,” the judge said Wednesday.
“The defendant also admitted his lack of awareness of the Japanese law and promised this court that he would never repeat the mistake again,” he said, explaining why he decided to suspend the sentence.