JAPANESE court extends deadline for prosecutors to charge American rape suspect

Monday, July 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TOKYO (AP) _ An Okinawan court has extended by one week the deadline for prosecutors to file charges against a U.S. Air Force sergeant accused of raping a Japanese woman, officials said.

The extension Monday allows prosecutors on the southern Japanese island more time to collect evidence and build their case against Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Woodland, who was arrested July 6 after being turned over to Japanese police by U.S. military authorities.

A judge in the prefectural (state) capital of Naha gave prosecutors until July 23 to formally charge Woodland with a crime, said Chokko Zukeran, a Naha District Court official. Prosecutors were originally given until Tuesday to file charges.

If prosecutors do not indict the U.S. airman by July 23, they will have to release him, Zukeran said.

Police will continue interrogating Woodland, said a spokesman for the Naha prosecutor's office on condition of anonymity. He said a lawyer defending Woodland may be allowed to sit with him during the questioning.

Woodland, whose hometown has not been released, was arrested on suspicion of raping an Okinawan woman up against a car in the early morning hours of June 29 in a parking lot outside a bar. He has denied the accusations.

The alleged assault and a subsequent four-day delay by U.S. authorities in turning Woodland over to Japanese police stoked anger toward the American military presnece on Okinawa, 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo, where U.S. soldiers have repeatedly committed crimes.

Okinawa hosts 26,000 of the 50,000 U.S. troops posted in Japan and.