Airman, 19, gets life
with possible parole

Associated Press

TOKYO >> A military court this morning sentenced a U.S. airman from the Big Island to life in prison for murdering a fellow serviceman last year on Japan's island of Okinawa.

Damien G. Kawai also was stripped of his airman 1st class rank and dishonorably discharged from the Air Force. He has the right to appeal but has not yet done so, according to Masao Doi, spokesman at Okinawa's Kadena Air Base, site of Kawai's court martial.

The 19-year-old Kawai is eligible for parole in 20 years, a term lighter than the maximum possible sentence of life without parole.

Doi said Chief Judge Col. David Brash did not explain why he handed down the more lenient sentence. Kawai's lawyers had argued against the maximum penalty.

A panel of officers convicted Kawai last Friday of premeditated murder in strangling Airman 1st Class Charles F. Eskew Jr. in his base dorm room on Nov. 17. They also found Kawai guilty of larceny and obstruction of justice.

Kawai had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of unpremeditated attempted murder.

Kawai testified last week that the crime took place after he walked in on Eskew with another man. Kawai, who had also been sexually intimate with the third man, said he feared his own homosexuality would be exposed if he didn't silence Eskew.

Kawai was an aircraft jet engine mechanic from Pahoa, Hawaii. He joined the Air Force in September 2000, and was posted to Kadena in April.

Eskew, the son of Patti and Charles F. Eskew Sr. of Great Falls, Montana, was a jet propulsion specialist and volunteered as a chaplain's assistant.

Okinawa, located about 1,000 miles from 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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