KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii – A military jury on Friday found a Marine not guilty of hazing a fellow lance corporal who killed himself in Afghanistan.
The panel of three officers and five enlisted Marines found Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III not guilty at a court-martial at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay.
He was accused of humiliating and demeaning Lance Cpl. Harry Lew by pouring sand on his face and forcing him to do push-ups and leg lifts. Orozco was acquitted of charges involving the assault, cruel treatment and humiliation of Lew, of California. Lew fatally shot himself at their remote Afghanistan patrol base on April 3. He was a nephew of Democratic Rep. Judy Chu.
Orozco was the last of three Marines to be court-martialed for the alleged hazing of Lew. Another lance corporal last month pleaded guilty to assault after admitting he punched and kicked Lew. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a reduction in rank to private first class. A jury in a separate trial later found their squad leader, a sergeant, not guilty of humiliating and demeaning Lew.
Prosecuting attorney Maj. Hanorah Tyer-Witek told the jury in closing arguments that witnesses saw Orozco ordering Lew to do push-ups after Lew had been digging a foxhole for two hours without eating or drinking anything.
Orozco was annoyed and fed up that Lew had fallen asleep on watch for the fourth time since he arrived at Patrol Base Gowragi, she said.
He placed sandbags on Lew's legs while Lew did leg lifts, Tyer-Witek said. Sand got into Lew's mouth when Orozco ripped open the sandbag after Lew stopped lifting.
"This was messing with him. This was piling on," she said.
Defense attorney Capt. Aaron Meyer told jurors that government witnesses gave conflicting testimony and Orozco was only trying to keep Lew awake so their base wouldn't be attacked by Taliban fighters.
It's true Orozco had Lew do push-ups and sit ups, he said. But Orozco was authorized to have a Marine in the squad do physical training like push-ups if the purpose was to maintain good order and discipline, there was no malice involved, and the training didn't physical exhaust the Marine, Meyer said.
If Orozco had allowed Lew to fall asleep again, his command would have asked him why he didn't do more to keep him awake, Meyer said.
"We don't let Marines slack because we care about each other," Meyer said.