TOKYO – Two U.S. Navy sailors were convicted and sentenced to prison on Friday for raping and robbing a woman on Okinawa in a crime that outraged many on the southern Japanese island.
Seaman Christopher Browning, of Athens, Texas, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, were found guilty by the Naha District Court of raping and robbing a woman in her 20s in a parking lot in October. Both admitted committing the crime.
Browning, 24, was sentenced to 10 years and Dozierwalker, 23, received nine years.
The case outraged many Okinawans, who have long complained of military-related crime on their island, which hosts thousands of U.S. troops. It also sparked tougher restrictions for all 50,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan, including a curfew and drinking restrictions.
Prosecutors had sought up to 12 years in prison for Browning, who they said also robbed the woman after the rape. Both men admitted their guilt, but the defence had argued that such a long sentence would be excessive.
In handing down the verdict, presiding judge Hideyuki Suzuki said the sentences were in line with the severity of the crimes, which he called “contemptible and violent.”
Tensions between U.S. troops and Okinawans are endemic because of islanders’ complaints of noise, the danger of accidents and crimes committed by servicemen. The rape in October came amid large protests over the U.S. military’s decision to base a new kind of aircraft at an Okinawan Marine facility.
Although most crimes committed by U.S. military personnel in Japan are handled by military courts, they can be prosecuted in Japanese courts in cases that occur off base and are deemed to be particularly serious, such as murder and rape.
The sailors were temporarily deployed to Japan with their unit, the VR-59 reserve air detachment based at Joint Naval Air Station, Fort Worth, Texas. According to police, they arrived in Okinawa two days before the crime on a brief stopover and were staying in an off-base hotel. They were reportedly drinking before the rape took place.
They will serve their sentences in a Japanese prison.