Army sergeant faces 30-day confinement for abusing soldier

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina Tue Jul 31, 2012 2:19pm EDT

Sergent Adam Holcomb (L), looks on during court-martial proceedings at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in this artist's rendering July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Jerry Mcjunkins

Sergent Adam Holcomb (L), looks on during court-martial proceedings at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in this artist's rendering July 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jerry Mcjunkins

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WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - A military jury that cleared a U.S. Army sergeant of negligent homicide in the suicide death of a Chinese-American soldier in Afghanistan recommended on Tuesday he receive 30 days of confinement for mistreating his subordinate.

The 10-member panel of officers and enlisted soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, also said Sergeant Adam Holcomb should have his rank reduced to specialist and forfeit about $1,200 in pay. He will serve the confinement in a military facility.

Holcomb, a 30-year-old infantryman assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, was convicted on Monday of maltreatment and assault but acquitted on more serious charges of negligent homicide and harassment.

Military prosecutors accused Holcomb of subjecting Private Danny Chen, 19, to physical mistreatment and racial prejudice that drove the young soldier to take his own life in October 2011. Chen, the only Chinese-American in his unit, shot himself in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan less than two months after being deployed.

During the court-martial that began last week, Holcomb's attorneys said Chen killed himself out of despair over his failures as an infantryman and his parents' disapproval of him joining the Army.

The court-martial panel could have called for up to 2-1/2 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge for Holcomb, a sentence Chen's supporters said would have been more just.

"Thirty days hardly equates with Private Danny 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.

OuYang and other supporters traveled from Chen's hometown of New York to attend the trial with his parents, Chinese immigrants who do not speak English. Chen was their only child.

Asian-American parents will fear having their children join the military knowing someone who harassed a lower-ranked soldier with racial slurs is still permitted to serve, OuYang said.

Holcomb, who pleaded not guilty to all the charges, was accused of referring to Chen by derogatory names such as "dragon lady" and "egg roll."

"Allowing a superior convicted of racial maltreatment of a junior soldier to remain in the Army calls into question the Army's commitment to diversity and respect," OuYang said.

The final decision on Holcomb's sentence rests with the commander of the Army's 18th Airborne Corps. The commander could further reduce the punishment but cannot exceed what the military jury recommended, Fort Bragg spokesman Ben Abel said.

Seven other soldiers, all Chen's superiors, also face charges in connection with his death. The next trial is set to begin at Fort Bragg on August 13.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)

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