Critics see bias in Japan's handling of 2 criminal cases

Americans' treatment inconsistent, they say


MIHAMA, Japan - This is the story of a rape and of a death and the different attention each has provoked on this small island where more than 20,000 American troops are based.

Both incidents can be traced to an unassuming restaurant named the 3F, which caters in almost equal measure to Japanese and to American troops.

First came the reported rape of a Japanese customer at 2 a.m. on June 29 in the parking lot outside the restaurant.

Timothy Woodland, a 24-year-old Air Force staff sergeant, was charged.

Then, barely a week later, Gerald C. Fearr, the 62-year-old American husband of the Japanese owner of the restaurant, died moments after being struck, in front of his house, in a late-night altercation with a young Japanese man. The dispute centered on a debt owed by Fearr's wife.

Among Okinawans, the allegation of rape quickly became a focus for rage, the most widely deplored in a growing list of offenses of which American servicemen have been accused since the rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl in 1995.

The rage grew during the uneasy few days when the United States hesitated before surrendering Woodland, who said he had consensual sex with the woman who accused him of rape.

It was only the second time the U.S. military had handed over a suspect to Japanese authorities before an indictment.

Since his indictment, Woodland has been held without bail in a spartan detention cell without cigarettes, newspapers, television or air-conditioning.

He is able to communicate only with his mother, grandmother and lawyer.

Even Bibles sent to him by well-wishers have been given to him with messages of encouragement ripped out, United States military sources say.

In contrast, Fearr's death received almost no coverage in the Japanese press.

Okinawan authorities arrested and briefly detained a suspect on assault charges.

"The charges were dropped because the autopsy results showed no direct link to the victim's death," said Junichi Okumura, deputy chief prosecutor. "The cause of death was a heart attack."

But for Fearr's family and for foreign military personnel in Okinawa, the contrast in the official handling of the two cases proves that the legal deck is stacked against Americans.

As Fearr's case languishes, the rape case has gone to trial.

It is already one of the most heavily publicized court cases in Japanese history.

And it has come to encompass decades-old grievances over the concentration of many of the 47,000 American forces in Japan on this small island.

Okinawa's economy, however, is heavily dependent on the American presence, and opinion polls consistently indicate that most Okinawans do not favor the total withdrawal of Americans.

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