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Update in military trial from Stars and Stripes

Charges dismissed in gang-initiation beating death in Germany

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Wednesday, June 20, 2007

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The fate of the case against Spc. Bobby Morrissette in the 2005 beating death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson will rest in the hands of a new command.

On Thursday, Brig. Gen. Scott West, commander of the 21st Theater Support Command, withdrew and dismissed all charges against Morrissette, according to Joe Monchecourt with the 21st TSC public affairs office. West served as the convening authority in the case.

The decision was reached late Thursday, but the information was not released until Tuesday because Friday and Monday were training holidays for the Army.

West’s action was taken to comply with a May 30 ruling by Judge (Col.) James Pohl. Military prosecutors from the 21st TSC and commanders who had convening authority were disqualified from the case for not following protocol during the investigation into Johnson’s death, Pohl ruled. The disqualification surrounded a December 2005 interview of Morrissette in which prosecutors and investigators did not follow proper procedure. Pohl did not dismiss the charges against Morrissette at the late May hearing.

Morrissette’s current unit, the 1st Cargo Transfer Company, is scheduled to relocate from Kaiserslautern to Grafenwöhr in the coming months. Files in the investigation into Morrissette will be forwarded to the command that Morrissette’s unit will fall under for legal matters.

“The gaining command should be free to take whatever action is deemed appropriate,” Monchecourt said.

Upon the move, the company will remain under the command and control of the 21st TSC, but the legal jurisdiction would fall under the Joint Multinational Training Command, said Elke Herberger, a U.S. Army Europe spokeswoman.

Morrissette faced charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, gang affiliation, hazing and making a false official statement in the alleged gang-initiation death of Johnson. Johnson died of multiple blunt force injuries on July 4, 2005, after an alleged initiation ceremony into the Gangster Disciples. Three other Kaiserslautern soldiers are facing courts-martial in the death.

West also dismissed charges alleging that Morrissette committed an indecent act and used indecent language in another incident.

Also on Thursday, West referred the case of another suspect in Johnson’s death to court-martial. Staff Sgt. Alre Hudson will stand court-martial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, hazing, aggravated assault and conspiracy to violate Army policy on hazing. A date for Hudson’s court-martial has not been set.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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