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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Fleet Reserve sailor pleaded guilty Friday to sexually abusing his daughter over a two-year period, saying he had been too drunk to remember the worst of the abuse, but that he took his daughter’s word for it.

The sailor, a petty officer first class, pleaded guilty to forcible sodomy and indecent acts at his court-martial in Yokosuka’s Trial Service Office courtroom before Capt. Carol Gaasch, the military judge.

The sailor told the judge that the acts — oral sex and sexual touching — were committed “a few times” between September 2000 and September 2002, beginning when his daughter was 14.

His name is not being used in order to protect the privacy of the girl, now 17.

The sailor said he didn’t remember the oral sex. He did recall touching his daughter sexually, going to her room after she’d gone to bed, and he knew, he said, “Those are things you don’t do, definitely, with your daughter.”

The sailor had also been charged in October with raping the girl, and prosecutors then alleged that the sexual abuse began when she was 12. But those charges were dismissed as part of a negotiated plea arrangement, said Cmdr. Steven Barney, chief Yokosuka prosecutor.

The maximum penalty for forcible sodomy is life in prison without possibility of parole. The maximum penalty for indecent acts against a child is seven years. The sentence agreed to in the plea arrangement was not revealed Friday.

Because of the negotiated plea, the lawyers are not disputing the sailor’s guilt or innocence, but instead are presenting evidence for the judge to determine his sentence.

But the maximum punishment the sailor can receive already has been decided. In the military justice system, whenever a plea is negotiated, the defense, prosecution and court-martial convening authority — in this case, Commander, Naval Forces Japan — all agree on a sentence. The judge, however, does not know what it is.

After hearing evidence, the judge pronounces a sentence. The two sentences are compared, and the defendant’s punishment is the lesser of the two, Barney said.

So prosecutors are working to present evidence to persuade the judge to issue a sentence at least as lengthy as the one already agreed to, while defense lawyers hope to present evidence that would cause the judge to give a lighter sentence.

Also at stake is the sailor’s pension, which could be forfeited as part of his punishment.

By negotiating in a plea arrangement, prosecutors, get a guaranteed conviction, the court saves resources by avoiding trial, and victims are spared the trauma of testimony and cross-examination.

After Friday’s testimony, Gaasch recessed the court. Proceedings are scheduled to begin again Feb. 19, giving the defense time to obtain a psychological evaluation of the defendant, as the defense requested.

The sailor, who had earned a Good Conduct medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal, among others, before he retired from 20 years of active duty in 2000, has been in custody since September.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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