WOMAN HELD IN KILLING OF CHILD IN JAPAN

Relates to:
Date: 1997-03-29

FIRST USE OF 1994 LAW TARGETS WIFE OF AIRMAN NOW AT TRAVIS

Denny Walsh
The Sacramento Bee

A 22-year-old Travis Air Force Base housewife was arrested early Friday on a charge that she murdered her 2-year-old half brother - who was also her adopted son - more than eight months ago in Okinawa, Japan.

Sharonda Renita White is the first person ever charged under a 1994 law that makes murder of a U.S. national in a foreign country a crime in this country.

She is accused in a cryptic, one-sentence indictment returned Thursday by a federal grand jury in Sacramento - and unsealed Friday after her arrest - of killing "with malice aforethought . . . a two-year-old child" on July 16.

With her husband, Airman Roshied White, looking on from the audience, Sharonda White made a brief appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Peter A. Nowinski. A plea and the question of bail were deferred to Tuesday. The magistrate ordered her held until then.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jodi Rafkin is seeking pretrial detention. White is charged with what amounts to second-degree murder and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Rafkin said.

While the charge itself is unprecedented, the case is one of a number reminiscent of the vow by U.S. Attorney Charles Stevens to go after domestic violence whenever possible, and Rafkin is spearheading that effort.

In an interview, Rafkin said it was decided at the highest levels of the U.S. Justice Department and the State Department to invoke the obscure law when Japanese authorities, after cursory examination, decided White was mentally incompetent at the time of the child's death and declined to prosecute her.

Rafkin said the 1994 law grew out of a concern that serious crimes committed by and against American citizens in foreign countries could, and sometimes do, go unpunished.

"The military especially felt there was a gap," she said.

"Of great concern," said Rafkin, "was the fact that (White) was providing day care for five other children from three other families at the time. Without something on her record, there was nothing to prevent her from coming back to this country and caring for other children.

"That prospect was frightening."

Rafkin said the boy, whose name is not being released, was beaten to death with a slotted, metal serving spoon. He suffered severe lacerations and abrasions on almost every part of his body, she said.

The beating was witnessed by a 6-year-old who was under White's care, she said.

"An autopsy indicated older injuries consistent with previous abuse," she added.

The boy was part of White's mother's "second family" and was adopted by the Whites at age eight months, Rafkin said. The couple have no other children.

Once Japanese authorities released White, the prosecutor said, she returned to Northern California, where she has relatives.

Her husband was later transferred from Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa to Travis.

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