Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Big Isle airman pleads
guilty in Okinawa death

He pleads guilty to a lesser
charge in the death of an Air Force
maintenance worker

Associated Press

TOKYO >> A U.S. airman from the Big Island pleaded guilty to attempted murder today in the death of a U.S. Air Force maintenance worker on Japan's southern island of Okinawa.

Airman 1st Class Damien G. Kawai, 19, also confessed to larceny and obstruction of justice on the third day of court-martial proceedings at Okinawa's Kadena Air Base.

Military prosecutors said today that Kawai strangled Airman 1st Class Charles F. Eskew Jr., 20, and smothered him with a pillow. Eskew was found dead in his dormitory room Nov. 17 at Kadena on Okinawa.

Kawai denied using a pillow but pleaded guilty to attempted unpremeditated murder -- a lesser charge than that of the premeditated murder being pushed by prosecutors, base spokesman Masao Doi said.

Kawai also confessed to charges he stole a television, video cassette recorder, a DVD player, several DVDs and other items, Doi said.

The trial is set to continue tomorrow with prosecutors presenting evidence to support their stronger charge of premeditated murder, according to Doi.

If convicted, Kawai faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay.

Kawai, a 2000 graduate of Pahoa High School, is an aircraft jet engine mechanic. He joined the Air Force in September 2000 and was posted to Kadena, his first assignment, in April.

He has been held in pretrial confinement since Nov. 19.

Eskew, the son of Patti and Charles F. Eskew Sr. of Great Falls, Mont., worked as a jet propulsion specialist at Kadena and volunteered as a chaplain's assistant there.

Okinawa, located about 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo, is home to more than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan and serves as a key American military outpost in the Pacific.

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