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U.S. Soldier Acquitted in Death of Girls

November 20, 2002|From Associated Press

DONGDUCHEON, South Korea — A U.S. military jury acquitted an American soldier of negligent homicide charges today in the deaths of two South Korean girls hit by his mine-clearing vehicle June 13 near the North Korean border.

Sgt. Fernando Nino, the vehicle commander, hugged his wife after he was found not guilty in a three-day court martial. He would have faced up to six years in a U.S. prison if convicted in the deaths of the 14-year-olds.

Nino's driver, Sgt. Mark Walker, will be tried on the same charges beginning Thursday.

South Korean activists had demonstrated to demand that the two men be tried in a South Korean court. After the verdict, Lee So Hee, spokeswoman for the group National Campaign for Eradication of Crime by U.S. Troops in Korea, said, "The trial was a superficial stunt designed to defuse rising anger."

The vehicle was going uphill and around a bend in a rural area when it hit the girls.

Soldiers in mine-clearing vehicles communicate through helmet microphones because the engine noise is so great.

Prosecutors had argued that Nino wasn't paying attention and "did not use all means necessary" to avoid the deaths of Shim Mi Son and Shin Hyo Sun. Defense lawyers said Nino had tried to warn Walker on a defective communication system.

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