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Alleged Deserter Says He Expects a Court-Martial

Times Staff Writer

In a letter scrawled from his Tokyo hospital bed last week, alleged Army deserter Charles Robert Jenkins told an American relative that he expected to face a court-martial over charges he defected to North Korea in 1965.

“I would like to see my family before I die,” Jenkins wrote his nephew, James Hyman, in a note dated July 23. “Tell everyone I said hello and if I make it through the courtmarishal I will see you all.”

A copy of the poorly spelled note, written on a lined half-sheet of paper, was obtained Monday by The Times.

It was the first indication of how the 64-year-old Jenkins regards his legal options since he left North Korea on July 9 after almost 40 years behind its sealed borders. Since then, there has been speculation about whether the Pentagon would press its legal right to have the ex-GI handed over for court-martial or would strike an agreement that would allow him to remain in Japan with his Japanese wife and two daughters.

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“It gives me the impression he’s going to go to a court-martial, but whether he’s got any fight in him when he gets there, we’ll have to see,” Hyman said in a phone interview from his home in North Carolina.

Hyman said the handwriting matched other samples he holds of Jenkins’ penmanship. In the note, Jenkins writes, “I am sick and I can see know one,” adding, “I would like to see you but it is impossible at this time.”

The letter was given to Hyman during his visit to Japan last week, during which he says Japanese authorities blocked him from visiting his uncle in the hospital. Hyman has led a drive to have Jenkins freed, saying the U.S. military lacks evidence to prove the former sergeant defected.

The July 23 letter was signed “Robert Jenkins,” the name by which the family knew him. Hyman argues that the signature is significant because it buttresses the family’s assertion that Washington’s material evidence -- a note Jenkins allegedly wrote his mother in 1965 confessing his defection -- was faked because it was signed “Charles.”

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Hyman also said Japanese authorities coerced his uncle into writing last week’s letter in order to justify keeping family members away from the Tokyo hospital where he has been treated since he arrived in Japan on July 18.

“After 40 years in North Korea, Robert is so used to people telling him what to do that he can’t think on his own,” Hyman said.

But Jenkins may be on the verge of getting outside legal advice.

“He’s basically requested to speak with a military lawyer, and we’ve passed, through [Japan’s] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, some information about the U.S. military Area Defense Counsel system,” Col. Victor Warzinski, public affairs director for U.S. Forces Japan, said Monday.

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