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Marine sergeant accused of hazing goes to trial

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A Marine sergeant accused of hazing another Marine who later committed suicide in Afghanistan will go trial on Monday.

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

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

The general court-martial is being held at a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, the home of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division that the accused all are assigned to. Proceedings will start with the selection of a jury.

Johns’ attorney said his client was only protecting his Marines 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 see Taliban fighters trying to attack their outpost again, 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."

Another Marine in the squad, 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.

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.

"This is a call for justice," Chu said at a news conference in Washington on Thursday. "Too many patriotic young people, who only want to serve our country, are being harmed."

She also condemned Jacoby’s sentence as "a slap in the face," noting he’ll continue to serve in the Marine Corps because he wasn’t discharged.

In April, the squad was assigned to a small patrol base in a remote part of Helmand province where the U.S. has been 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 that he could get more rest and not fall asleep while on watch.

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.

 

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