Two-year term sought for civilian U.S. base worker

Kyodo

Prosecutors are demanding a two-year prison term for a civilian employee of the U.S. Air Force in Okinawa who was indicted over a fatal traffic accident in January 2011 under a new bilateral accord for handling crimes involving nonmilitary personnel at U.S. bases.

The victim, Koki Yogi, was “not at fault” and his mother is demanding severe punishment for Rufus James Ramsey III, prosecutors said Wednesday in their closing statement at the Naha District Court.

Ramsey, 24, has shown “no regret,” and twice rejected “without any legitimate reason” a police request to appear for questioning, they said.

Ramsey’s counsel sought a suspended sentence on the grounds that he deeply regrets what happened.

A verdict will be rendered on Feb. 22.

According to the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office, Ramsey, an employee of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, lost control of his car after abruptly turning to pass the car in front of him, swerving into oncoming traffic and striking a minivehicle driven by Yogi, 19, on the night of Jan. 12, 2011, in the city of Okinawa.

Prosecutors indicted Ramsey in November after the United States and Japan agreed to change the operational implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the handling of U.S. service personnel in Japan, to conditionally grant Japan jurisdiction over crimes involving nonmilitary personnel at U.S. bases.

Ramsey was charged with negligent driving resulting in death and said at his trial that he bears 100 percent responsibility. He repeatedly said, “I am sorry.”

In his final defense plea, Ramsey, who was a salesclerk at a shop on base, said he rejected police requests to appear for questioning because the U.S. Army told him there was no problem in doing so.

In March, prosecutors originally decided not to indict Ramsey on the grounds he was on duty at the time of the incident.

Prior to the revision, the United States had primary authority to try both military and nonmilitary U.S. personnel suspected of committing crimes while on duty.

But prosecutors reopened the case after an independent judicial panel of citizens, acting on a claim from the victim’s family, decided in May that the driver should be indicted because prosecutors failed to appropriately investigate whether Ramsey had in fact been on duty at the time.

The accident occurred before the change was made official in the interpretation of the SOFA, but the case was treated as an exception and Ramsey was indicted without arrest in November.