Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Airman accused of planning
to ‘put away’ victim

By Daniel Smith
Associated Press

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan >> A U.S. airman accused of killing a fellow serviceman on Japan's southern island of Okinawa hinted to friends before the killing that he would have to "put away" the victim, an investigator testified today.

The testimony was meant to show Airman 1st Class Damien G. Kawai had thought out the murder of 20-year-old Airman 1st Class Charles F. Eskew Jr. before allegedly strangling the base chaplain's assistant and smothering him with a pillow.

Investigator Bret Palmer told a panel of officers at Kawai's court martial on Okinawa's Kadena Air Base that before the killing, Kawai intimated to a friend he was "going to have to put him (Eskew) away."

Palmer said Kawai also told his girlfriend, "I'm going to do something I don't want to do."

His testimony was based on statements Kawai made while in police custody four days after Eskew was found dead in his Kadena base dormitory room Nov. 17.

Military prosecutors will use today's testimony to push their charge of premeditated murder against 19-year-old Kawai, a 2000 graduate of Pahoa High School on Hawaii.

Kawai yesterday pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of unpremeditated attempted murder, larceny and obstruction of justice.

Also today, Navy doctor Capt. Jim Green testified that he examined Eskew's body and it showed signs of being strangled and smothered. Green said he found a pillow smeared with blood near the body but didn't know if it was used in the killing.

In entering his plea yesterday, Kawai had denied using a pillow. But he did confess to additional charges that he stole a television, video cassette recorder, a DVD player, several DVDs and other items.

If convicted on the prosecutors' charges, Kawai faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay. He has been held in pretrial confinement since Nov. 19.

Kawai, an aircraft jet engine mechanic, joined the Air Force in September 2000 and was posted to Kadena, his first assignment, in April.

Eskew, the son of Patti and Charles F. Eskew Sr. of Great Falls, Montana, 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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