Navy Seaman Marcus D. Gill, accused in the rape of a 12-year- old girl in Okinawa, was incorrectly identified in a story yesterday as a nurse. He is a hospital corpsman. (Published 11/9/95)
Three U.S. servicemen accused of raping a 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl were led by a rope into a Japanese courtroom today, where they admitted involvement in a crime that has sent shock waves all the way to the White House.
All three men said they had participated in abducting the girl on Sept. 4 and driving her to a secluded sugar cane field. One of the men, Navy Seaman Marcus D. Gill, 22, admitted that he then raped the girl; the other two, Marine Pfc. Rodrico Harp, 21, and Marine Pfc. Kendrick M. Ledet, 20, denied raping her.
"Yes," said Gill, who is married and has two children, when asked if he committed the crimes he is charged with.
Gill, a thick-necked Navy nurse and high school football star from tiny Woodville, Tex., wore a red-and-green rugby shirt, khaki pants and plastic flip-flops as he stood, hands folded behind his back, facing the three-judge panel that will decide his fate. Under Japanese law, the servicemen face a sentence of three years to life in prison.
Today's court appearance provided the public its first look at three young servicemen whose offenses started an international incident that has brought apologies from President Clinton and jeopardized the government of Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. There are 26,000 U.S. troops stationed on Okinawa, including the largest contingent of Marines outside the United States.
Since the rape, public outrage has grown from a growl in the Okinawan belly into a national roar that will almost certainly result in some reductions in U.S. military bases on Okinawa. Outspoken Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota has threatened to fight the prime minister in court to protect the rights of private landowners who have refused to renew leases for some U.S. bases. Two weeks ago, more than 50,000 people attended a rally calling for the punishment of the rapists and a reduction of the U.S. bases, which occupy 20 percent of the main island of Okinawa. In response to the rape, a group of women has established Okinawa's first rape-crisis center and plans a sit-in at the local government office from Thursday until Clinton's arrival in Tokyo Nov. 20, for a visit focused on the security relationship between the United States and Japan. The three servicemen were brought into and out of the courtroom today in handcuffs attached to a rope. During most of the proceedings, they sat on a long leather couch flanked by six Okinawan policemen.
The servicemen heard a prosecutor read the schoolgirl's appeal for severe punishment: "I hope they will be kept in jail as long as they live."
After Gill addressed the judges, he was followed by Ledet, who has been described in press reports as a Boy Scout, church usher and tuba player in the high school band in his hometown of Waycross, Ga. His girlfriend described him as sounding "gentle and sweet" when she talked to him on the day of the rape. "I never hit her. I never harmed her," said Ledet, who was also dressed casually in a track-suit top and green jeans. Ledet told the judges that he did not rape the girl, but bowed his head and admitted he had conspired with the other two defendants to plan the rape.
Prosecutors introduced Ledet's signed statement saying he attempted to rape the girl after Gill did, but was unable to penetrate her. Under Japanese law, Ledet faces the same sentence of three years to life imprisonment if he conspired in the rape but did not sexually assault the victim. Harp, a slight man wearing a sweat shirt and black sweat pants, was the last to enter his plea. "Guilty," he said. "But I'd like to add that I did not rape her. But I did hit her." Harp, of Griffin, Ga., admitted that he hit the girl to subdue her as the trio abducted her. He replied, "Yes, ma'am," when the female court translator relayed the judge's question about whether he conspired to rape the girl.
Prosecutors introduced a signed statement Harp gave to U.S. military authorities in which he admits having sex with the girl. But his lawyer, Mitsunobu Matsunaga, later told reporters that the statement lacked "credibility" because U.S. military officials coerced Harp to confess to stem growing political pressure. In Atlanta today, the parents of the three servicemen gathered at a news conference to proclaim their sons' innocence, the Associated Press reported. "My son is innocent. He says he is, and I believe him," said Barbara Cannon, Ledet's mother. "I do not believe he is capable of committing any type of crime whatever." The parents also complained that the U.S. military abandoned the men to Japanese authorities before the charges were proven and cut off their pay, causing their families financial difficulty. Prosecutors also provided their first detailed account of the events of Sept. 4: They told the judges that Gill, Harp, Ledet and another serviceman went driving in a rented car shortly after noon. They visited a record shop, the prosecutors said, after which Gill suggested raping a girl. They drove to a store where Harp and Ledet purchased duct tape and condoms. The fourth serviceman realized the other three were serious about rape and asked to be dropped off. About 7:30 p.m., the account continued, Gill, Ledet and Harp began looking for a girl to rape and spotted one walking home from a stationery store, where she had just purchased a notebook. Harp pretended to ask for directions from the girl, and Ledet grabbed her from behind and pulled her into the car. As Gill drove, Harp and Ledet taped the girl's mouth, eyes, wrists and ankles, according to the prosecutors. When they reached the sugar cane field, Gill hit her in the face and raped her. Ledet then attempted to rape her but could not. According to the prosecutors, Harp then raped her before they untaped and freed her. Harp disposed of the servicemen's underwear, which was stained with the victim's blood, along with her notebook and a shopping bag. In an interview on the eve of the trial, Matsunaga, Harp's lawyer, said Harp and Ledet did not rape the girl. After Gill raped her, Matsunaga said, "Gill got out of the car and told Ledet, You go next.' Then Ledet went into the back seat and he said as he looked at her, she was so small and skinny, he didn't feel right to rape her." Harp also looked at the young girl and decided "he didn't feel right" about raping her, either, his lawyer maintained. There are no jury trials in Japan. Trials are held on separate days spread over a period of months or even years. The next hearings in this case are scheduled on three days in early December.
In court today, the servicemen listened impassively as prosecutors read statements from the victim's parents calling for even tougher punishment than their daughter requested. "I hope the death penalty can be given to them," her mother's statement said. Said her father's: "If the existing laws permit it, I would like to kill these three American soldiers." CAPTION: A squad of Japanese policemen uses shields to guard one of three U.S. servicemen being taken to an Okinawa courtroom to stand trial on charges that they participated in the rape of a 12-year-old local schoolgirl.