KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii – A military jury on Thursday found a Marine sergeant not guilty of charges in the hazing of a lance corporal in his squad.
Sgt. Benjamin Johns was charged with violating a lawful order by wrongfully humiliating and demeaning Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, who committed suicide shortly afterward on April 3.
Prosecutors alleged Johns hazed the lance corporal by forcing him to dig a foxhole as punishment for falling asleep on guard duty in Afghanistan. They also charged the 26-year-old didn't intervene when a corporal punished Lew by making him carry a sandbag around the base, he said.
Johns' attorney told the general court-martial jury of three officers and five enlisted Marines that the foxhole was needed to protect the base and Johns tried to stop the sandbag carrying.
Johns is 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 of California.
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, only that he died.
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.