A US military court yesterday sentenced a US Marine to four years in prison for sexually abusing a 14-year-old Japanese girl, in a case that triggered mass protests.
But the court on southern Okinawa island — home to more than half of the 40,000 US troops based in the country — cleared Staff Sergeant Tyrone Hadnott, 38, of rape and other charges including kidnapping through luring.
Hadnott, who pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of sexual abuse, had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison. The court sentenced him to 36 months in confinement, with the last 12 months suspended.
He also was dishonorably discharged from the US military.
Court-martialled at Camp Foster on Okinawa, Hadnott faced charges of rape and sexual abuse of a minor, making a false statement, adultery and “kidnapping through luring” in connection with the February incident.
The case outraged Japanese leaders who have called for stricter discipline on US troops, amid a string of crimes committed by US soldiers stationed in Japan, one of Washington’s closest allies.
In February, Hadnott, who lived off base, picked up the girl on a motorbike and took her to his home. When she started crying, he offered to drive her to her home and allegedly raped her in his car, Japanese police said.
But Japanese prosecutors declined to indict Hadnott after the teenager dropped the case, apparently because she did not want to be in the public glare. It was then picked up by the US military.
In delivering the court’s verdict, judge Lieutenant Colonel David Oliver said the Marine was “ignorant of her true age.”
Hadnott had waived his right to a pre-trial investigative hearing, likely resulting in the lesser sentence. Prosecutors had recommended an eight-year term.
Hadnott admitted he had touched the victim’s underwear but insisted he had not raped her.
“I touched her in a sexual manner over clothing. I was gratifying my sexual desire, sir,” he said, shaking his head after the judge asked why he did it. “[There is] no excuse for my action and no way to express how sorry I am.”
The case rekindled memories of the gang-rape in 1995 of a 12-year-old girl by three US soldiers, which led to major protests and set in motion a process to reduce the number of US troops stationed in the country.
The island of Okinawa, which was under US control from 1945 to 1972, is strategically close to the Taiwan Strait.
After Hadnott’s arrest, the US military moved quickly to try to calm anger and in a rare measure put troops and their families under a round-the-clock curfew in Okinawa for nearly two weeks.