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Marine Sentenced To 20 Years For Parachute Tampering

Posted August 7, 2003

— A Marine who admitted cutting parachute lines last year before a training jump was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison by a military judge who urged him to try to be "a productive citizen."

Lance Cpl. Antoine D. Boykins admitted cutting suspension lines on 13 of the 22 parachutes that were to be used in the exercise Sept. 21. He said he knew someone could be killed or injured because reserve chutes fail nearly half the time they are used.

Three Marines were injured in the jump's first wave, and the exercise was canceled.

The judge, Col. Alvin Keller, deliberated about five hours before sentencing Boykins. He also cut Boykins' rank to private and said he would be dishonorably discharged. The sentence must be formally approved by the commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.

"It's clear to this court that you have a great deal of natural ability and you are lucky to have a number of people who support you," said Keller, who heard testimony in person and by videotape from a number of members of Boykins' hometown church in Baltimore.

Boykins, 21, had pleaded guilty to nine counts of reckless endangerment, four counts of aggravated assault and one count of destruction of government property. He could have gotten as much as 31 years in prison.

Keller told Boykins to heed the advice of his pastor, the Rev. Stephen Andrew Tillett, who testified that he told Boykins to find other Christians in prison and stick with them, and to take college courses while he serves his sentence.

"You can still be a productive citizen in this country if you take advantage of what your pastor has recommended that you do," Keller said.

Boykins will be eligible for parole after serving one-third of his sentence.

He was originally charged with attempted premeditated murder, reckless endangerment, aggravated assault and other crimes, but agreed to plead guilty and testify against another Marine charged in the case.

Prosecutors said he deserved the maximum sentence. "This is a case about treachery," Lt. Col. Stuart Couch said.

He said Boykins was angry because he had been punished and his pay was docked when he returned late from leave.

"That anger burned in him," Couch said.

Prosecutors said Boykins' plan was well thought out and he had help. Prosecutors said Boykins told Cpl. Clayton A. Chaffin that they should do something to get to the captain. Prosecutors said it was Chaffin who devised the plan to cut the parachutes.

Prosecutors said it was Boykins who was picked to do the cutting because he was faster at packing the parachutes.

The prosecution also alleges that Boykins and Chaffin tried to frame another Marine, Julian Ramirez. Ramirez was arrested, but charges were later dropped.

Defense lawyer Kimberly Tarver of Baltimore pleaded for mercy and a lighter sentence, and asked that Boykins be transferred to military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., so he can get counseling.

Before sentencing, Boykins told Keller that he "made the worst decision I could ever imagine."

"Somewhere along the way, I went left where I should have gone right," Boykins said, reading from a prepared statement. "I was wrong and I am sorry."

Boykins' parents were among those who traveled from Baltimore for the two-day sentencing hearing.

"He's a good kid," his father, Sammie Boykins, told Keller. "Everybody makes a mistake in life. Everybody needs a second chance. ... Look at him as if it was your son, your honor."

Sammie Boykins, a janitor, said Thursday that the experience has been hard on his entire family, particularly his wife and four other children. He said his wife recently "passed out worrying about her son being in prison."

Members of the Mount Zion United Methodist Church also submitted a videotape in which they talked about how much they admired Boykins.

"We love him and we want our Antoine back home," said one woman.

Chaffin, 28, from Franklin, Ohio, is charged with 31 counts including reckless endangerment, aggravated assault, conspiracy and drug charges. He is scheduled to have his hearing in October.

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