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Military jury convicts soldier on lesser charges in private's suicide

Posted July 30, 2012
Updated July 31, 2012

— A 10-member military jury deliberated for two hours Monday before finding a soldier guilty of two lesser charges in the death of a private who committed suicide in Afghanistan last fall.

Sgt. Adam Holcomb, of Youngstown, Ohio,was acquitted of the most serious charges against him – negligent homicide and hazing – but was found guilty of maltreatment and assault consummated by battery.

Two charges of violating a regulation were dismissed on Saturday at the conclusion of five days of testimony in the court-martial.

Holcomb is the first of eight soldiers to be tried in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, who shot and killed himself in a guardhouse at a Afghanistan base on Oct. 3.

The sentencing phase of the trial began late Monday, with some of Holcomb's comrades testifying on his behalf. He faces up to 2½ years in prison.

The case has attracted scrutiny from Chinese groups in the U.S. and abroad, who questioned whether the military discriminates against Asian members.

Military prosecutors alleged that Holcomb and the others charged physically and emotionally abused Chen, 19, for weeks leading up to his death.

According to court documents, Chen was kicked, dragged from his tent, forced to crawl on a gravel path and had sandbags tied to his arms. The son of Chinese immigrants, he also was called racial slurs like "dragon lady" and forced to speak to his fellow soldiers in Chinese.

"You've seen the last six weeks of Private Chen's life. No wonder he felt that death was his only option," prosecutor Maj. Steve Berlin told jurors in his closing argument Monday morning.

Army Pvt. Danny Chen Chinese-American community says soldier's punishment not enough

Instead of leadership and support from his superiors, Berlin said, Chen received abuse and mistreatment.

"Of course he was going to get away from it – with nowhere to go. If you treat someone like that, someone is going to snap," the prosecutor said.

The defense maintained that Chen killed himself because he felt his family had disowned him and that Chen received only "corrective training" to encourage him to stay awake while on guard duty.

"Nothing shows that his suicide is the natural and probable result of Holcomb's actions," defense attorney Capt. Anthony Osborne said in his closing argument.

"This is a case of a completely unprepared private showing up in war," Osborne said. "If a soldier can't have discipline in the basic things, men will die."

Chen served with the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Seven of the eight courts-martial have been moved to Fort Bragg at the request of Maj. Gen. James Huggins, commander of the Bragg-based 82nd Airborne commander who oversaw Chen's unit during deployment.

The second court-martial in Chen's death is scheduled to begin Aug. 13.

28 Comments

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  • loprestw Aug 1, 11:30 a.m.

    I guess no one here ever had to serve in the military or know what it is like to have to go to war and have weak soldiers you have to discipline. And sometime you have to put your hands on them to make them into soldiers to do a job you people will not do. People like piene2 and fayncmike, be glad that law abiding citizens buy six shooters to keep you guys safe so you can continue critiquing everyone who has served.

  • corie2 Jul 31, 11:59 a.m.

    The Furry Godmother, if the truth is, that this soldier wasn't doing his job, like I said "The right thing would have been to turn him in if his mental state was that noticable. Not beat him down." It's getting to a point that we can't trust even our own to do the right thing, and what makes it worse is that the soldiers, law enforcement that are in this to serve, protect and fight for us get a bad name because of soldiers and officers taking matters into their own hands. UPDATE: He has been sentenced to one month of confinement, loss of rank and forfeiture of one month's pay. Guilty of maltreatment and assault consummated by battery. He was demoted one rank, to E4, and his loss of pay amounts to $1,181. They state "Jail time is absolutely not appropriate in this case," "He will always have the stigma of being convicted at a court-martia", "Holcomb has been punished enough."WHAT??????????????????

  • Uhavenoclu Jul 31, 10:29 a.m.

    His commanding officer and the defence attorney should be charged as well.

  • fayncmike Jul 31, 10:26 a.m.

    "I guess my comment about the eight getting out of the military and gunning up was too close to the truth so it was deleted. Nice going WRAL moderators!
    piene2"

    I read your original comment and found nothing wrong with it either

  • piene2 Jul 31, 9:38 a.m.

    I guess my comment about the eight getting out of the military and gunning up was too close to the truth so it was deleted. Nice going WRAL moderators!

    What really scares me is that those eight Yahoos will be out of the Army soon. The first thing all eight of them will do is go out, buy six shooters and "stand their own ground."

  • Grandaddy Jul 31, 8:53 a.m.

    "Chen killed himself because he felt his family had disowned him". wonder when the trial will start for his family? they are already being punished for the rest of their lives. this is a sad situation all around.

  • piene2 Jul 31, 8:06 a.m.

    I am a bit surprised. Usually the military justice system works quite well but letting Holcomb off with a pittance punishment is disgraceful.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jul 30, 7:26 p.m.

    corie - "Muggs, you really need to get a grip on society and life. Times have changed..."

    They haven't changed so much that sleeping troops need guarded, but someone who is awake.

    Like I asked Lens, who would you rather have guarding your loved ones???

    Do our troops not deserve the same???

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jul 30, 7:25 p.m.

    SingleLens - "in MY book the fact that the torturers are in the US military makes them MORE guilty. "

    What you call "torturers" are what others would call "teachers".

    Which would you want guarding your loved ones???

    That's the REAL bottom line here.

    Which ones???

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jul 30, 7:24 p.m.

    I agree. If the kid had fallen asleep just once while on guard duty, I'd say this was excessive, but they say he did it several times, and one simply cannot take chances with a weak link like that when lives are at stake.

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