NAHA, Japan (AP) -- A U.S. airman was sentenced to nearly three years in a Japanese prison Thursday for raping a woman on the southern island of Okinawa, an area simmering with tension over the thousands of U.S. troops based there.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Woodland went on trial last September after being charged with raping a 20-year old Japanese woman in a parking lot outside a popular Okinawa nightclub on June 29.
The incident attracted intense media coverage in Japan, where a series of military-related crimes over the years on Okinawa has heightened tensions with residents.
It also raised pressure on the Japanese government to revise an agreement with Washington that lets U.S. authorities hold military personnel suspected of crimes until formally charged by prosecutors.
U.S. officials refused to hand Woodland over to police for four days after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Prosecutors had demanded a three-year prison sentence for Woodland, who was tried at the District Court in Naha, Okinawa's capital city. But Woodland was sentenced Thursday to two years and eight months in a prison near Tokyo.
Court official Takashi Hamada said a sentence lighter than that sought by prosecutors is not unusual in Japan for a case involving a first offender.
The airman pleaded innocent to the charge, which normally carries a prison sentence of two to 15 years, saying that he had consensual sex with the woman. His home town and the name of the woman have not been released.
The victim, who testified by video linkup so she would not have to face Woodland in court, testified that she resisted his advances and added that she hoped he would be sent to prison so she would "never have to see him again."
Annette M. Eddie-Callagain, one of Woodland's lawyers, said she would advise him to appeal the decision.
"As far as the defense team is concerned, we are shocked because we were totally expecting a not guilty verdict," she said.
The incident stoked resentment against U.S. troops in Okinawa, which still has painful memories of the 1995 rape of a local schoolgirl by three American servicemen. That crime sparked huge protests.
Okinawa, about 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo, is home to almost half of the approximately 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan.