Then-Staff Sgt. DariusOmar Stephens, a military working dog handler for the 18th Security Forces Squadron, works with ZsoZso at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Aug. 24, 2023.

Then-Staff Sgt. DariusOmar Stephens, a military working dog handler for the 18th Security Forces Squadron, works with ZsoZso at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Aug. 24, 2023. (Edward Yankus/U.S. Air Force)

NAHA, Okinawa — A U.S. airman’s mother pleaded guilty in a Japanese court to attempting to smuggle cannabis liquid into the country by mail in August and to possessing the drug while visiting her son on Okinawa in September.

Kasandra Michelle Stephens, 45, the mother of Tech. Sgt. DariusOmar Stephens, 26, a military working dog handler at Kadena Air Base, admitted Thursday in Naha District Court to violating Japan’s Cannabis Control Act and Customs Law.

Stephens told Judge Takashi Kato that she sent a couple of packages to her son’s post office box at Kadena after her daughter-in-law, Elena Barriga-Stephens, 22, requested she send some “pens” that she could share with a Japanese co-worker.

A spokesman for Kadena, 1st Lt. Robert Dabbs, declined comment on the case, citing an ongoing investigation. “We can’t confirm the identity of non-sofa status personnel,” he said by email Thursday.

SOFA is the status of forces agreement that outlines the rights and responsibilities of individuals in Japan as part of the U.S. military.

On Aug. 9, Stephens sent a package containing 2.88 grams of cannabis liquid that arrived at Tokyo International Airport, or Haneda, on Aug 16. Three days later, it arrived at Kadena, where it was intercepted by local custom officers, the prosecutor said in court.

Stephens was tearful during the 2 ½-hour hearing. “I’ve made a huge mistake,” she said. “I am very sorry.”

Stephens said she did not think much about the Japanese law while sending the package. She said she believed only U.S. law would apply because she was sending it from the United States to a U.S. military base.

Stephens told the court she unintentionally brought cannabis liquid to Okinawa on Sept. 11 when she came to stay with the couple at their home at Kadena. She was arrested Sept. 27 and accused of possessing of 1.594 grams of cannabis liquid. She was charged Nov. 8.

Stephens is scheduled for sentencing Feb 2. Prosecutors asked the court for two years in prison; Stephens’ attorney requested a suspended sentence.

“I would like a suspended sentence,” Stephens said in court. “I have been in prison since Sept. 27 and I have definitely learned a valuable lesson.”

DariusOmar Stephens and Elena Barriga-Stephens are scheduled to appear in district court Jan. 30 to face smuggling charges.

Barriga-Stephens is also charged with possession of the cannabis liquid. They were charged Nov. 28, according to information provided by the prosecutor’s office Thursday.

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Mari Higa is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in 2021. She previously worked as a research consultant and translator. She studied sociology at the University of Birmingham and Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences.
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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

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