HONOLULU (Reuters) - Three U.S. Marines were ordered on Wednesday to face court-martial on charges they physically abused and humiliated a fellow Marine who later killed himself while they were serving in Afghanistan.
The case stems from the suicide of Lance Corporal Harry Lew, 21, who shot himself with his automatic rifle during a patrol in April after he was allegedly beaten and hazed by others in his unit for falling asleep while on sentry duty.
A suicide note that read, “May hate me now, but in the long run this was the right choice I‘m sorry my mom deserves the truth,” was found scrawled on Lew’s arm, according to an investigative report cited by the Marine Corps Times newspaper.
Lew and the three men charged with abusing him -- Jacob Jacoby and Carlos Orozco, both lance corporals, and squad leader Sergeant Benjamin Johns -- were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
The unit is stationed at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay on Oahu, which is probably where the three men will be tried.
The three were referred for general court-martial by Brigadier General Frederick Padilla, commander of the 3rd Marine Division, but no date for the proceedings was immediately set.
Jacoby, facing three counts of assault, as well charges of humiliating Lew and threatening him, was accused of repeatedly kicking and punching Lew, according to charging documents.
Orozco was charged with one count of assault for stepping on Lew’s back, and with cruelty and maltreatment for ordering him to perform push-ups, leg lifts and other exercises while dressed in full body armor, the documents said.
Orozco and Johns both were further charged with humiliating Lew and with dereliction of duty for failing to supervise and ensure the welfare of a Marine under their care.
Captain Michael Regner, the company commander, testified at an evidentiary hearing last month that he saw Lew asleep on watch as he approached the patrol base the night of the incident, a situation he said would leave the unit more vulnerable to attack.
Base spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Curtis Hill said the maximum penalties carried by the offenses charged had yet to be calculated.
“The Marine Corps does not tolerate hazing of any kind,” he said in a statement. “When allegations of hazing are made, they are investigated and if substantiated, appropriate corrective action is taken.”
He added that the three Marines were presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston