Marine Hazing Trial Delayed After Charges Expanded

Published February 7, 2012 12:45AM (EST)

KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (AP) — The court martial for a Marine sergeant accused of hazing a fellow Marine who committed suicide in Afghanistan was delayed Monday after the prosecution asked to expand the details of the charges.

Military judge Col. Michael Richardson told prosecutors to provide Sgt. Benjamin Johns' defense with specifics of the new charge details. Jury selection is expected to begin Tuesday.

Johns has been charged with wrongfully humiliating and demeaning Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, who killed himself on April 3.

Johns, a squad leader, also has been charged with dereliction for failing to supervise and ensure the welfare of Marines under his care.

The government had already told the defense the dereliction charge included allegations that Johns ordered Lew to dig a hole as punishment even though Johns wasn't authorized mete out such punishment.

But on Monday, Capt. Jesse Schweig told Richardson the government wanted to expand its case by saying Johns was also derelict for failing to prevent other Marines from punishing Lew by forcing him to carry sand bags around their patrol base.

The general court-martial had been scheduled to start with jury selection Monday at a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, the home of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, which the accused are assigned to.

Johns is the second Marine to be tried in the case.

The first, Lance Cpl. Jacob Jacoby, last week pleaded guilty to assault. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and demoted to private first class. A third Marine will go to trial later.

Johns' attorney said his client was only trying to save the lives of his squad as he tried to get Lew — who had repeatedly fallen asleep on watch and patrol — to stop dozing off. The base had been fired on before, and Johns was concerned Lew wouldn't spot Taliban fighters trying to attack their outpost again, Tim Bilecki said.

"These aren't acts of hazing. They're simply not," Bilecki said. "These are actions of a Marine trying to take care of his other Marines."

Lew, of Santa Clara, Calif., was a nephew of U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who has called for congressional hearings on the military's efforts to prevent hazing.

In April, the squad was assigned to a small patrol base in a remote part of Helmand province where the U.S. trying to disrupt Taliban drug and weapons trafficking.

By April 2, Lew had fallen asleep four times while either on patrol or watch duty in his 10 days at the base.

His leaders referred him up the chain of command for punishment and took him off patrols so he could get more rest so he wouldn't fall asleep.

A command investigation report on the incident said Johns, after discovering that Lew had dozed again, told other fellow lance corporals that "peers should correct peers."

At about 11 p.m., he woke up another Marine who was due to relieve Lew two hours later and had him take over the job early. Johns also ordered Lew to dig a foxhole deep enough for him to stand in, so he would stay awake while on watch.

The violence escalated after Johns went to sleep.

Jacoby admitted in his court martial that he punched and kicked Lew, saying he was frustrated that the fellow Marine repeatedly fell asleep while on watch. He was also upset that Lew spoke to him disrespectfully.

The third Marine, Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III allegedly put his foot on Lew's back, ordered Lew to do push-ups, side planks and poured sand into Lew's face. Orozco has been charged with assault, humiliating Lew, and cruelty and maltreatment. His court martial is pending.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------