Former U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Jenkins believes his conviction and sentence to 30 days in jail for desertion after nearly 40 years in North Korea is “very fair,” his military counsel said Thursday.
Bringing one of the Army’s longest desertion cases to a close, Jenkins, now 64 and in poor health, pleaded guilty Wednesday to abandoning his unit early in 1965 and to aiding the enemy by teaching English to North Korean military cadets.
“Sgt. Jenkins and his family believe the sentence was very fair,” Culp said in an interview.
In accordance with a pretrial agreement, Jenkins was sentenced to 30 days in jail, forced to forfeit pay and benefits and demoted from sergeant to private. He will also be given a punitive discharge.
Charges of soliciting others to desert and of making disloyal statements were dismissed.
In announcing the sentence, the judge, Col. Denise Vowell, recommended the jail time be suspended.
That recommendation was not immediately accepted by the base commander, Maj. Gen. Albert Perkins, however, and Jenkins was transferred to a military jail shortly after the court-martial ended. With good behavior, Jenkins could be released on Nov. 28.
Culp, a veteran military defense counsel and a former infantry sergeant himself, said he was not surprised by the verdict.
“But I was surprised by the judge’s recommendation to suspend all confinement,” he said in his first public comments since the court-martial. “That is a very rare thing for a military judge to do.”
Culp had argued Jenkins had already endured great hardship during his four decades in North Korea, suffering poverty, beatings and constant surveillance. The prosecution had argued Jenkins brought that misfortune on himself.
After his discharge, Jenkins may not be completely free from the U.S. Army — until his automatic appeal process is completed, he could remain on “involuntary excess leave” status for one to two years.
After staying at Camp Zama a couple of weeks upon his release from detention, Jenkins is expected to move to his wife’s hometown on Sado Island.
Jenkins’ wife, Hitomi Soga, was abducted by North Korean agents in 1978 and was forced to live in the reclusive state to teach spies Japanese language and culture. She and Jenkins married in 1980, and have two North Korea-born daughters.
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