Returnee gets 6 1/2 years for cabby robbery

by Setsuko Kamiya

A U.S. citizen was convicted Friday and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in a Tokyo District Court lay judge trial for his involvement, with two other foreign nationals, in robbing a taxi and wounding the driver in 2008.

Burnside Brandon Lee, 28, had pleaded not guilty, claiming that another man was involved in the robbery attempt and that this man had threatened his life if he revealed the truth.

But presiding Judge Masahiro Hieda said Friday that the testimony by the other two foreigners convicted in the crime and other evidence, including cell phone records, outweighed Lee’s claim.

Because most lay judge trials to date involved defendants who had already pleaded guilty, the six lay judges who tried Lee’s case along with three professional judges said they had deliberated carefully.

“Because the defendant pleaded not guilty, it felt really challenging because I didn’t want to hand down a wrongful conviction,” said Tomoko Yoshida, 21, a college student who served on the bench.

Another lay judge, a company employee in her 30s, agreed. “We fully discussed the case from the notion that we must give the defendant the benefit of the doubt. And we reached a conclusion we felt satisfied with,” she said.

The court ruled that Lee, another American and a Peruvian had wounded the cabby in Shinagawa Ward on the night of Jan. 28, 2008, by punching him in the face several times and using a stun gun on his neck. They fled without paying their ¥1,770 fare but failed to take any money. Lee left Japan for the U.S. after the incident and was arrested when he returned last August.