Unfortunately, I could not get the article to come up on the internet regarding the verdict in the case. Still, I do have an opinion (everyone has one!) on the overall situation...
I have travelled to Naha many times through the years on business and have seen what happens there in the nightlife. And it is a mess.
I am most familiar with the area outside of Kadena Airbase. There really aren't many things for US military people to do outside of the base, that is, if you aren't into water activities. Many of the people are young, and live on the "wild" side. When you go out the gate when heading towards BK Street, the first thing you see are Fillapean (sp??) hostess clubs, pawnshops, and many other clubs. Heavy drinking occurs regularly and on weekends, which really increases. I have been there when curfews were imposed back in '96, and things had really quieted down a lot. People had to be back on the base early. I think it was around 10:00 or 11:00. The younger military is lured into clubs, loses most of their money, and gets out of the box.
I think bases need to make more appealing activities that are on the bases themselves to make better alternatives and keep people off of the streets late at night. Places like "whisper alley" need to be cleaned up, so people won't frequent such areas. Americans over there definitely create many problems around that area.
In contrast, where I was residing in Yokohama, more specifically in Sagamihara, serious crimes, such as rape, were rare in the US military. I feel the one reason why was (is) that there are many different things to do and see. There were petty crimes, but nowhere near the frequency and degree of the extremity as in the Naha area.
With regards to the 3-year sentence, I think it is quite light. But as the article states, the prosecution states that this is the norm. In Japan, their legal system is quite different in some ways when it comes to sentencing a convicted person. Rape is one of the crimes that do not carry such a heavy sentencing in Japan as it is the opposite in the US. Another example was the sentencing (and the whole overall process) of how the Secretary Scandle was handled from beginning to end. Top executives and senior politicians got off quite easily considering how much money was embezzled from their corporation's accounts or govt accounts compared to how much time they received in prison, and fines, etc. After all, it is their legal system, not ours.
In contrast, if a person were to be found with a small amount of marijuana in Japan, if found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. Quite a contrast to the states (unless you live in the "bible belt).
It is interesting, though, if you speak to some Japanese citizens who are quite familiar with the US, and its legal system, they truly are outraged at their legal system for reform, to create stronger penalties for various crimes. I have seen major demonstrations in some of the different areas of Tokyo, some being in Shinjuku, Ueno, and Shibuya, expressing this very idea.
As the article mentions about SOFA, this became the major point of emphasis initially when the rape occurred. The Japanese court system wanted the airman "badly" to be put into the Japanese legal system. The time that it did eventually take for the US to hand him over really "kicked the beehive" with the Japanese public, and lawmakers.
I feel Japan's desires to modify SOFA are of merit, but total loss of a SOFA agreement is not an option. I don't know all of the particular details (it is quite lengthy, and involves UCMJ), but I feel that the service members need to have their US rights protected while serving in Japan, or in any other country. When conditions are appropriate, then the person should (and in most cases) will be handed over to the host govt. Presently Japan lawmakers want servicemembers to be immediately handed over to Japanese officials. "Immediately" is the keyword. This strips the US servicemember of his US rights "immediately." I think it is fair that conditions for being handed over should be relooked, but I find it hard to see the US military to give in 100% in this issue...