Thursday, March 23, 2006
Court postpones hearing of 4 US Marines accused of rape (7:30 p.m.)

MANILA -- A court on Thursday postponed the arraignment of four US Marines accused of rape after the alleged victim's lawyer filed a motion claiming a link between the presiding judge and the defense attorneys.

Judge Renato Dilag, in the western city of Olongapo, announced that he was withdrawing from the case to erase any doubts about his impartiality. He said the hearing, scheduled for Friday, would be deferred and handled by a new judge.

The complainant, a 22-year-old Filipino woman, claims Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith raped her on Nov. 1 while three other Marines cheered him on.

Smith and his co-defendants, Lance Cpl. Keith Silkwood, Lance Cpl. Dominic Duplantis and Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier, belong to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Force stationed in Okinawa, Japan. They face capital charges of rape and conspiracy to commit rape.

The US Embassy, which has custody of the men under an agreement governing large-scale American military exercises in the Philippines, hasn't released their ages or hometowns.

Smith has admitted to "consensual sex" with the woman. The three other men have acknowledged they were in a van with Smith and the woman, but denied any rape took place.

A motion filed Thursday asked Dilag to excuse himself from the case for his failure to disclose that his son used to be an associate at Rodrigo Berenguer and Gulo Law Offices, which is representing Carpentier.

Dilag said his son resigned from the firm in August 2004.

"I don't see that that is a legal ground for me to inhibit, but just the same, to dispel any suspicion or any doubt on my future action regarding this case, I am voluntarily inhibiting myself," Dilag told ABS-CBN television.

The rape case is seen as a black mark for the US military in the Philippines, which has been credited with helping weaken al-Qaida-linked militants in the south. The Marines were on liberty after counter terrorism maneuvers with Filipino troops when the alleged rape occurred.(AP)