KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii - A military jury found a Marine sergeant not guilty yesterday after authorities charged him with hazing a lance corporal who later committed suicide in Afghanistan.
The general court-martial panel of three officers and five enlisted Marines deliberated about an hour before announcing that Sergeant Benjamin Johns was not guilty of violating a lawful order by wrongfully humiliating and demeaning Lance Corporal Harry Lew.
Tim Bilecki, Johns’s attorney, said his client feels relieved and exonerated by the outcome. The sergeant told Bilecki the verdict was a victory for Marines and non-commissioned officers.
Johns will return to regular duty and is looking forward to training once more, Bilecki said.
Prosecutors alleged Johns hazed Lew by ordering him to dig a foxhole as punishment for falling asleep on guard duty at their patrol base in a remote part of Helmand Province. They also charged that the 26-year-old from Russelville, Ark., did not intervene when a corporal punished Lew by making him carry a sandbag around the base.
Bilecki told the jury in closing arguments the foxhole was needed to protect the base, which had already come under attack by Taliban fighters multiple times and to keep Lew awake while on watch duty.
Johns was one of three Marines accused of hazing Lew in the hours before he shot himself on April 3. The 21-year-old was the nephew of US Representative Judy Chu, a California Democrat, who called the verdict “outrageous and a travesty of justice.’’