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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Returnee claims frameup, denies robbing cabby


By MIZUHO AOKI and SETSUKO KAMIYA
Staff writers

An American man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to robbing and injuring a taxi driver in conspiracy with two other foreign nationals in 2008.

Burnside Brandon Lee, 28, said as his trial opened in the Tokyo District Court that another man is the real culprit, claiming he was staying in the Kabukicho district of Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, when the crime occurred in Shinagawa Ward.

The two other men, a Peruvian and an American, were convicted last year. Lee claimed they were lying and trying to frame him. His lawyers were expected to probe the motivation for this later in the trial.

"There is another man. I never robbed this taxi. I'm innocent," said Lee, a sports instructor and car sales manager who was in tears several times during the session.

Lee's Japanese lawyers identified the third perpetrator as a "Robaato Bendaa." The English spelling was not immediately available.

According to the indictment, Lee, the other American and the Peruvian wounded taxi driver Shoji Kobayashi on the night of Jan. 28, 2008, by punching him in the face several times and using a stun gun on his neck. They fled without paying their ¥1,770 fare, the prosecutors alleged.

In their opening statement, the prosecutors claimed Lee and the other two conspired to rob the taxi but failed to take any money from Kobayashi because he started honking his horn for help. Kobayashi suffered facial injuries that required a week to heal.

Lee's lawyers said he left Japan after the incident and then returned with no notion that he faced arrest.

He first came to Japan in October 2007 and returned to the U.S. in February 2008 because his visa expired. He was arrested upon his arrival at Narita airport last August.

The lay judges for the trial are five women and one man. The trial is expected to last six sessions, and the verdict is scheduled for June 25.



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