KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii – A sergeant singled out a member of his squad at their patrol base in Afghanistan, a military prosecutor said Tuesday at the start of the military trial of a Hawaii-based Marine accused of hazing a fellow Marine who later committed suicide in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Benjamin Johns ordered Lance Cpl. Harry Lew to dig a foxhole as punishment for sleeping on watch duty, Capt. Jesse Schweig told a general court-martial jury of three officers and five enlisted Marines. The sergeant also didn't intervene when a corporal punished Lew by making him carry a sandbag around the base, he said.
Johns, of Russelville, Ark., is charged with violating a lawful order by wrongfully humiliating and demeaning Lew and for dereliction by failing to ensure the welfare of Marines under his care.
He's one of three Marines accused of hazing Lew in the hours before he fatally shot himself at Patrol Base Gowragi in Helmand province. The 21-year-old was the nephew of U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.
A lance corporal last week pleaded guilty to assault and admitted kicking and punching Lew. The third Marine, also a lance corporal, still faces trial.
There hasn't been any evidence to prove Lew killed himself because of the abuse, so the military judge presiding over the trial, Col. Michael Richardson, said jurors wouldn't be told about the suicide. They will only be told Lew, of Santa Clara, Calif., has died.
Johns' attorney, Tim Bilecki, recounted in his opening remarks that Lew had fallen asleep repeatedly while on watch duty and patrol. By the night of April 2, he had fallen asleep four times since he joined Johns' squad. He explained how vital it was for those on watch to stay awake, noting the base had come under attack before and that the squad had intelligence they might be targeted by 30 Taliban fighters and some suicide bombers.
Johns, 26, ordered Lew to dig a foxhole deep enough to stand in — a position that could help Lew stay awake on watch duty, Bilecki said.
Bilecki said his client appropriately addressed Lew's sleeping problem by referring him up the chain of command for punishment, talking to Lew individually, and taking the lance corporal off difficult combat patrols in the area outside the base. Even so, he said, Lew fell asleep again.
"What should a squad leader in Sgt. Johns' position do? That is one of the central questions that should be asked in this trial," Bilecki said.
The alleged incident happened while the squad was assigned to a small patrol base in a remote area where the U.S. was trying to disrupt Taliban drug and weapons trafficking.
The first Marine to face trial in the case, Lance Cpl. Jacob Jacoby, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and demoted to private first class after pleading guilty to assault last week.
The third Marine, Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III, allegedly put his foot on Lew's back, ordered Lew to do push-ups and 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.