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GI Pleads Guilty to Rape of Japanese Schoolgirl

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An American serviceman pleaded guilty Tuesday to the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl, in a case that galvanized sentiment against U.S. military bases on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa.

Navy Seaman Marcus D. Gill, 22, of Woodville, Tex., pleaded guilty to all charges against him on the opening day of the trial.

Also accused in the Sept. 4 rape were Marine Pfc. Rodrico Harp, 21, of Griffin, Ga., and Marine Pfc. Kendrick M. Ledet, 20, of Waycross, Ga. They pleaded not guilty to the rape charge but admitted helping in the attack. Harp also acknowledged hitting the girl.

Outrage over the case helped prompt the biggest anti-base rally in Okinawa since World War II with an estimated 60,000 to 85,000 protesters gathered on Oct. 21 to demand a reduction in the U.S. military presence on their island. About 26,000 American troops are stationed in Okinawa, which has about 75% of the U.S. military facilities in Japan.

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The issue of local opposition to U.S. bases in Okinawa continues to cast a shadow over a Tokyo summit between President Clinton and Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama set for Nov. 20, at which the two leaders are expected to reaffirm the importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance in the post-Cold War era.

The three military men, wearing casual civilian clothes, were brought into the Japanese courtroom wearing handcuffs, which were then removed. They sat quietly during Tuesday afternoon’s proceedings, held in Japanese with English translation.

The three men were accused of abducting the girl while she was walking along a street, wearing a school uniform. Prosecutors said they taped her eyes and mouth and tied her hands, then took her in a rented van to an isolated beach. According to the charges, they took turns raping her.

The three were arrested by U.S. military police Sept. 6 and turned over to Japanese authorities after being indicted Sept. 29. They were charged with confinement and rape resulting in injury, which carries a maximum life sentence.

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Even with the servicemen’s admissions, the judges could still take months to arrive at verdicts and pass sentence. Under Japanese law, they must weigh all the evidence and consider whether to adjust the charges in delivering their verdict.

The charges to which Gill pleaded guilty carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

U.S. and Japanese officials have sought to defuse the anti-base movement on Okinawa by promising efforts to reduce the “intrusiveness” of the American bases.

But critics, including Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota, are pushing for much greater changes, including a return to civilian use of the most economically valuable land used by the bases. Murayama agreed with Ota in a meeting Saturday to set up a joint committee to discuss further measures to reduce the American military presence on the island.

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