HONOLULU (AP) — Three Hawaii-based Marines accused of hazing a fellow Marine who later committed suicide in Afghanistan will be tried in a court-martial, the Marine Corps said Wednesday.
A trial date for Sgt. Benjamin E. Johns, Lance Cpl. Jacob D. Jacoby and Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III has not been set. The three are charged with wrongfully humiliating and demeaning 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, who killed himself April 3.
Jacoby and Orozco have also been charged with assault, and one was charged with cruelty and maltreatment.
They'll face a general court-martial, which is a forum for the most serious charges in the military justice system. Less serious charges may be addressed in a summary court-martial or a special court-martial.
Lew, of Santa Clara, Calif., was a nephew of U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of California.
Brig. Gen. Frederick Padilla, 3rd Marine Division commander, decided the case should go to trial, Lt. Col. Curtis Hill, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Pacific, said in an email.
"The Marine Corps prides itself on holding its members to the highest levels of accountability. The Marine Corps does not tolerate hazing of any kind," Hill said. "When allegations of hazing are made, they are investigated and if substantiated, appropriate corrective action is taken."
Hill said the Marines would not make anyone involved in the case available for interviews while legal action was pending "to maintain the integrity of the investigative and legal process."
An Article 32 hearing — similar to a civilian grand jury hearing — was held regarding the charges last month.
The hearing depicted a squad of Marines actively fighting on the front lines while at the same time trying to cope with a habit Lew developed of falling asleep on watch duty.
Lew fell asleep four times in the 10 days he spent at Patrol Base Gowragi, a remote outpost in Afghanistan. Because Lew's life and the lives of his fellow Marines depended on him being awake and alert, several Marines in his squad grew increasingly frustrated with the dozing.
Lew's leaders tried various approaches to keep him awake, including taking him off patrols so he could get more rest, according to testimony at the hearing.
But on Lew's last night, those efforts escalated into alleged acts of violence and humiliation, according to the charges heard. The Marines are accused of punching and kicking him, making him do pushups and pouring sand in his face.
Commanders in retrospect said Lew's sleeping may have been a symptom that he was suffering from depression or some other medical condition.
Chu said in a statement in August that her nephew was a patriotic American, and that no one deserves being "hazed and tortured like he was." She said the military justice system must hold any wrongdoers accountable.
Hill stressed the Marines are presumed innocent until proven guilty.