Hawaii-based Marine in hazing case goes to trial

AP News
Posted: Jan 30, 2012 4:23 AM
Hawaii-based Marine in hazing case goes to trial

A Hawaii-based lance corporal accused of hazing a fellow Marine who committed suicide at their remote outpost in Afghanistan is appearing in court after agreeing to a plea bargain.

In October, Lance Cpl. Jacob D. Jacoby was referred to a general court-martial on charges that he assaulted, threatened, and humiliated Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, who killed himself on April 3.

Jacoby will instead appear Monday before a special court martial _ a venue for less serious crimes than a general court-martial_ at a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay after reaching a plea agreement. The Marines didn't release details of the agreement ahead of the trial.

Two other Marines have also been accused of hazing Lew, 21, a nephew of U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of California, before he shot himself with his machine gun in his foxhole.

Sgt. Benjamin Johns, the leader of the squad the Marines belonged to, and Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III will each have their own separate courts-martial at later dates.

The case involves the actions of Marines at an isolated patrol base the U.S. was establishing to disrupt Taliban drug and weapons trafficking in Helmand province.

At an Article 32 hearing _ the equivalent of a grand jury hearing in the civilian world _ in September, Marines testified Lew had repeatedly fallen asleep while he was on duty. Squad members and officers had tried different methods to get him to stay awake, including referring him up the chain of command for discipline and taking him off patrols so he could get more rest.

But on Lew's last night, those efforts escalated into alleged acts of violence and humiliation, according to charges outlined at the hearing. The Marines were accused of punching and kicking him, making him do push-ups and pouring sand in his face.

A significant share of the questions raised at the Article 32 hearing focused on whether the accused intended to humiliate and harm Lew or discipline him so he would stop falling asleep while on watch duty.

Before Lew put the muzzle of his machine gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, he scrawled a note on his arm: "May hate me now, but in the long run this was the right choice I'm sorry my mom deserves the truth."

A Marine commander in retrospect speculated Lew may have been nodding off because he suffered from depression or some other medical condition.

Chu discussed her nephew's death during a House Armed Services hearing on suicide prevention in September, held at the same time as the Article 32 hearing. She told military witnesses that Lew was "a very popular and outgoing young man known for joking and smiling and break dancing."

Chu also issued a statement saying no one deserves being "hazed and tortured" like her nephew was, and the military justice system must hold "any wrongdoers accountable."