Local News

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

Posted July 30, 2012 12:24 p.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2012 5:50 a.m. EDT

— 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.

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.