중앙데일리

GI 'not guilty' in deaths

Nov 20,2002
DONGDUCHEON, Gyeonggi -- An American soldier was acquitted of negligent homicide charges yesterday by a U.S. military jury. The initial reaction of Korean civic groups that have bitterly denounced the deaths of two teenage girls was muted, but promised more demonstrations.

Sergeant Fernando Nino, who was court-martialed on charges of negligent homicide in the traffic deaths of the girls last summer, was embraced by his wife and congratulated by his two defense attorneys after the verdict was announced.

On June 13, Shim Mi-sun and Shin Hyo-son were struck and killed by an armored vehicle on a narrow road in Yangju county, Gyeonggi province, during a training exercise conducted by the U.S. 2d Infantry Division. Sergeant Nino, the vehicle's commander, and Sergeant Mark Walker, the driver, faced two counts each of negligent homicide after the incident.

The girls' parents despaired. "I am not surprised at the outcome," Shim Su-bo, the father of Mi-sun, said mournfully to the JoongAng Daily by phone. "What did you expect from a trial where the judge, jury and prosecution were all from the U.S. military? The court-martial was nothing more than the Americans' procedure out of courtesy." The parents of both victims were invited to the trials, but none attended. "I didn't want to go, because the trials are useless," Mr. Shim said. "I never want to think about it again."

Many civic groups called the court-martial "unfairly conducted by only U.S. military personnel." Lieutenant General Charles Campbell, the commander of the Eighth U.S. Army, said the trial was "fair, open and impartial" as he apologized for what he said was a tragic accident.

After more than three hours of deliberation, Colonel Kurt Stein, the president of the seven-member jury, read the "not guilty" verdict. Had he been convicted, Sergeant Nino would have been faced up to six years of imprisonment. Under U.S. civil and military law, the prosecution is not permitted to appeal a not-guilty verdict.

Calling the case "needless tragedy," the prosecution had argued that Sergeant Nino failed to "act as a careful track commander should have on June 13."

Major Robert Broughton, senior defense counsel, said the defendant "did everything he could do" to stop the vehicle. He cited a communications failure as one possible reason Sergeant Nino's warning to stop was not heard by the driver. Most of the testimony in the three-day court-martial centered on whether the tracked vehicle's intercom system was functioning at the time of the accident.

Despite the "not guilty" verdict yesterday, only a handful of activists gathered at the front gate of Camp Casey here. The Pan National Committee, which has been staging protests since the girls' deaths, vowed to launch a mass demonstration today at Camp Casey to protest both this verdict and the upcoming court-martial of the vehicle's driver.

Sergeant Walker's trial is scheduled to begin today.

by Ser Myo-ja




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