By Jorene Barut
HONOLULU (Reuters) - Three Marines appeared in military court at their home base in Hawaii on Thursday to face charges they physically abused and humiliated a fellow Marine who later killed himself while they were in Afghanistan.
The Article 32 hearing, the rough equivalent of a grand jury proceeding in the military justice system, was called to determine whether there was sufficient evidence for the three to stand trial in a court-martial.
The case stems from the suicide of Lance Corporal Harry Lew, 21, who shot himself with his automatic rifle during a patrol in April after he was allegedly beaten and hazed by others in his unit for falling asleep while on sentry duty.
The message, "May hate me now, but in the long run this was the right choice I'm sorry my mom deserves the truth," was found scrawled on Lew's arm, according to an investigation report cited by the Marine Corps Times newspaper.
Lew and the three men charged with abusing him -- Jacob Jacoby and Carlos Orozco, both lance corporals, and squad leader Sergeant Benjamin Johns -- were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
The unit is stationed at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay in Honolulu, where the hearing took place.
Jacoby, facing four counts of assault, as well charges of humiliating Lew and threatening him, is accused of repeatedly kicking and punching Lew, according to charging documents.
Orozco is charged with two counts of assault for kicking and stomping on Lew, and with cruelty and maltreatment for ordering him to perform push-ups, leg lifts and other exercises while dressed in full body armor, the documents said.
Orozco and Johns both were further charged with humiliating Lew and with dereliction of duty for failing to supervise and ensure the welfare of a Marine under their care.
Captain Michael Regner, the company commander, testified that he saw Lew asleep on watch as he approached the patrol base the night of the incident, a situation he said would leave the unit more vulnerable to attack.
"Jacoby came off his watch and stayed away for a few hours to be sure that Lance Corporal Lew was staying awake and digging his hole," he said, but did not describe the actions as hazing.
All three of the accused sat quietly during the first day of the proceeding. Jacoby and Orozco seemed largely attentive, taking notes, leaning forward and listening to the testimony. Johns spent more time shifting in his seat, yawning and leaning his head from side to side.
Also in attendance were Lew's parents and a sister.
The proceeding was expected to conclude on Friday, and a base spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Curtis Hill, said it would take weeks before it was determined whether the case will go to trial.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)