Fort Bragg, N.C. — After clearing a soldier of negligent homicide in the suicide death of one of his subordinates, a military jury on Tuesday sentenced the soldier to one month of confinement, loss of rank and forfeiture of one month's pay.
Sgt. Adam Holcomb, 30, of Youngstown, Ohio, was also acquitted Monday of hazing in the Oct. 3 death of Pvt. Danny Chen, who shot and killed himself in a guardhouse at a combat base in Afghanistan.
The 10-member jury found Holcomb guilty of maltreatment and assault consummated by battery. He was demoted one rank, to E4, and his loss of pay amounts to $1,181.
Military prosecutors alleged that Holcomb and seven other soldiers 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.
Holcomb faced up to 2½ years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, and prosecutor Maj. Stephen Hernandez said the jury needed to send a message that "there is no justification to drag a soldier."
"(He) left a bleeding Danny Chen on the gravel with no medic in sight," Hernandez said.
Maj. Bret Batdorff, the military judge overseeing the court-martial, cut Hernandez off in his closing argument after he made several inadmissible references, including that Holcomb never apologized to Chen's family.
The defense objected to that statement, saying Holcomb has the right to remain silent in the case.
"Jail time is absolutely not appropriate in this case," defense attorney Capt. Dennis Hernon said in his closing argument.
"He will always have the stigma of being convicted at a court-martial," Hernon said. "Suffice it to say, Sgt. Holcomb has been punished enough."
Holcomb, a married father of three, was the first of eight soldiers to be tried in Chen's death, and the case attracted scrutiny from Chinese groups in the U.S. and abroad, who questioned whether the military discriminates against Asian members.
"Thirty days confinement hardly equates with Private Chen's life being cut short at the age of 19," said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.
Chen grew up in New York, and his family and supporters in the Chinese-American community attended the six-day trial at Fort Bragg.
"Asian-American parents will be petrified to send their sons and daughters to the Army with superiors convicted of racial maltreatment," OuYang said. "There is no room for any so-called superior who harbors racist feelings to be in the Army."
"There is no place in the Army for a leader who discriminates against a subordinate with such reckless disregard for human life," OuYang said. "Asian-American parents will be petrified to allow their children to enlist in the military if superiors convicted of racial discrimination continue to serve in the military."
Holcomb's mother and brother said three combat deployments, where he saw his comrades maimed, put him under great emotional stress.
"He did what they said he did. He was guilty of that, OK?" Valerie Holcomb said of her son. "Now you stand up for it and take the task that comes with it."
"We're glad that justice was served and he gets to stay in the military because that was his biggest thing. He loved to serve, and he loved to help," Patrick Holcomb said.
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.