In From The Cold

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KOJI SASAHARA / AP

RETURN: The deserter turns himself in at Camp Zama U.S. Army base in Japan, declaring, “I’m Sergeant Jenkins, and I’m reporting”

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When Jenkins arrived at his one-day general court-martial more than seven weeks later, he had won a pretrial agreement in which he would plead guilty only to desertion and aiding the enemy (for the time he spent teaching English). In exchange, his penalty would be a maximum 30 days' confinement, a demotion to private, forfeiture of all pay and benefits and a dishonorable discharge. Military-law experts assume Jenkins won this relatively lenient treatment in exchange for providing intelligence about North Korean spy programs. Neither Jenkins nor the U.S. government will comment on any such discussions.

During a day of dramatic testimony on Nov. 3, veteran defense lawyer Captain Jim Culp, himself a former infantry sergeant, argued that Jenkins shouldn't do time. Culp presented his client as a broken man who had suffered so severely under North Korea's brutal regime that compassion could only dictate he had already paid for his crimes.

Colonel Denise Vowell, the Army's chief judge, apparently agreed. She recommended to the commander of the U.S. Army Japan that the 30-day sentence be suspended for clemency's sake. The commander, Major General Elbert Perkins, ignored the suggestion, although according to standard Army confinement rules, Jenkins' sentence was ultimately reduced by five days for good behavior. "I have made my peace with the U.S. Army," Jenkins said after his release, "and they have treated me very fairly."

For now, the Jenkins family lives in standard-issue enlisted-family housing in Camp Zama. When Jenkins is officially discharged from active duty and released from the U.S. base, he plans to settle down in his wife's hometown on Japan's Sado Island. He wants to work, and the local mayor's office has said it will try to help him find a job, although it's unclear what work Jenkins could do, especially since he doesn't speak Japanese. His wife already works at city hall and receives a government stipend every month in a program benefiting North Korean kidnapping victims. At some point Jenkins also wants to visit North Carolina to see family members, including his aging mother. Asked how his daughters are faring, Jenkins concedes that he isn't sure. "I just spent 25 days in jail. I haven't really gotten a chance to talk to them that much yet. But I think they will be all right." He starts to sob. "I made a big mistake of my life, but getting my daughters out of there, that was one right thing I did."

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