KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii – A Hawaii-based Marine told a military hearing that he was angered by the treatment he saw his fellow platoon members give a 21-year lance corporal who committed suicide in Afghanistan, after fellow Marines allegedly hazed him one night.
Lance Cpl. Michael Morris testified at Thursday's court hearing that he told Lance Cpl. Jacob D. Jacoby to "chill out man" after he saw Jacoby slap Lance Cpl. Harry Lew on the back of his Kevlar helmet. He also said he became "pissed off" after seeing Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III pour sand into Lew's face.
"It angered me a bit. I didn't like what I saw," Morris said.
Jacoby, Orozco, and their squad leader, Sgt. Benjamin E. Johns, are charged with "wrongfully humiliating and demeaning" Lew, of Santa Clara, Calif., who shot himself with a machine gun April 3 in Helmand province.
The Marines face an Article 32 hearing, the military justice equivalent of a grand jury proceeding. The hearing got under way at Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay, where the three are based, to determine whether there's enough evidence for them to go to trial.
Presiding officer Lt. Col. Douglas Gardner will evaluate the evidence and prepare a recommendation on whether the three should face a court martial. The commander of the 3rd Marine Regiment, Col. Nathan Nastase, will take Gardner's report into account as he makes the final decision on a military trial.
Much of the Thursday's testimony focused on whether the accused intended to humiliate and harm Lew or discipline him so he would stop falling asleep while on watch duty.
Lew had been caught sleeping on duty multiple times at his platoon's outpost, the remote Gowragi Patrol Base close to Taliban positions.
The commanding officer of the platoon testified he didn't think Jacoby was hazing Lew when he punched and kicked Lew's body armor after the Marine was caught sleeping on watch again. "I think Lance Corporal Jacoby lost his temper," said 1st Lt. Jameson Payne.
"I think he was upset Lance Corporal Lew was jeopardizing everyone's lives."
Jacoby, 21, is accused of kicking and punching Lew in the head. He is also charged with threatening Lew with harm. Johns, 26, and Orozco, 22, are also accused of dereliction for failing to supervise and ensure the welfare of Marines under their care.
Orozco, 22, allegedly ordered Lew "to do pushups, side planks, leg lifts with a sandbag, while wearing full personal protective equipment and pouring sand onto his face," according to the cruelty and maltreatment charge against Orozco. He is also charged with assault for kicking Lew in the head and stomping on his back.
Gardner, the presiding officer, asked each of the seven Marines who spoke Thursday, whether Lew, a Chinese-American, faced any racial discrimination in the Marines.
Several Marines said Lew was the target of some jokes and teasing, like many other Marines of all ethnic backgrounds, but they weren't aware he was discriminated against because of his race.
Gardner said the 3rd Regiment's commander, Nastase, asked him to make sure he investigated the issue during the hearing.
More evidence is scheduled to be heard on Friday.