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Military jury strikes down serious charges

CCTV.com

07-31-2012 09:46 BJT

By Jessica Stone, CCTV Washington Correspondent

A military jury has struck down the most serious charges against the first of eighth soldiers on trial for the death of a Chinese-American soldier. Sgt. Adam Holcomb, 30, of Youngstown, Ohio was found not guilty on charges of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and communicating a threat, but he was convicted of assaulting and maltreating Private Danny Chen and one other soldier.

The case now moves to the top general in charge of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Lt. General Daniel Allyn will review the jury's findings and make a final ruling. That could take up to six months. Chen killed himself October 3, 2011.

Written in black ink on his arm: "Tell my family, I'm sorry." After six days of testimony, it took the jury just two hours to reach its verdict. Chen family supporters are outraged. "There is no place. There is no place for a leader in this army who has shown his disdain and his hate for Asian-Americans, to be serving in the U.S. military," said Elizabeth OuYang, president of OCA-NY, "None of our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or family members could ever feel protected by him being their superior." During his sentencing hearing, Sergeant Holcomb took the stand and blamed trauma from previous deployments for his actions.

He told jurors: "I know I messed up by putting my hands on a soldier, and I know that's not the right thing to do." In closing arguments, Prosecutor, Major Steven Berlin argued that Holcomb was a racist and a poor leader who tormented instead of taught Private Chen, an inexperienced soldier. Berlin told the jury Chen "was immediately ostrasized" when he arrived at Command Outpost Strong Point Palace in late August of 2011.

He was kept off patrols because he had not proven himself as a soldier. In short order, Sergeant Adam Holcomb joined him, Berlin said, after he was injured. That's where Berlin says Holcomb mistreated Chen. In late September, Holcomb dragged him off the top bunk of a bunkbed, possibly knocking him unconscious as he dragged him more than 36 meters across rocky ground.

 Internal bruises were later found inside Chen's body. "What broke Private Danny Chen was his treatment,specifically, [Sergeant Adam Holcomb] who drug him across the rocks," said Berlin. Holcomb and Chen shared a tent, giving Chen no place to escape. Soldiers say he was found sleeping outside the tent and even in a portable toilet. "You've seen the last six weeks of Danny's life, no wonder death seemed like the only option," Berlin told jurors.

But Holcomb's attorney, Captain Anthony Osborne, told the jury Private Danny Chen was mentally and physically weak and depressed over being disowned by his parents after he joined the military. The Chens dispute that. "Rather than paint [Sergeant Holcomb] as a tormentor, let's look at [Private Danny Chen] and why he committed suicide," said Osborne.

Osborne told the jury that the courtroom is not a place to try a suicide: "It's easier to paint a picture of a tormentor than admit the Army shouldn't have deployed [Chen.]" In an exclusive interview with CCTV before the trial, the Chens said they supported their son's decision to join the military and said there's only one way justice can be served. "Convict those people who committed the crime so I feel that my son could rest at peace.

Even if he die, he could rest in peace," said Chen Suzhen. Two other soldiers, Sergeant Travis Cardin and Staff Sergeant Blaine Dugas, have pleaded guilty to some or all of the charges against them. If given immunity, they could be asked to testify against the other soldiers on trial.

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