Military Justice in the News

In victim’s apartment, some clothes, a lot of tears

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — The mother of murder victim Lea Gray became so distraught when she saw her daughter’s clothes in the victim’s Camp George apartment in Daegu last week that her military escort offered to take her back to her hotel.

Army officials had escorted Marilyn Bahena and another daughter, Celeste, to the apartment on March 27, a day after a military jury sentenced Capt. Christopher Gray to life in prison with eligibility for parole for the April 20 murder of his 27-year-old wife.

The women went to the apartment to claim some of Lea Gray’s belongings, said Bahena, 52.

Marilyn and Celeste Bahena, 29, had flown to Daegu from their home in Cebu, Philippines, to attend the last day of the trial.

Prosecutors said Gray killed his wife by administering a lethal dose of an over-the-counter medication because he’d tired of her adultery. They said he’d concluded she married him only to get U.S. citizenship. He stuffed her body into a suitcase and dumped her in a wooded area north of town, prosecutors said.

On entering the Grays’ former apartment, the elder Bahena broke into tearsat the sight of her slain daughter’s red short-sleeved blouse on top of a washing machine, she said in a telephone interview with Stars and Stripes.

That and other belongings triggered memories of the few months the mother and daughter had spent in the Grays’ home near Fort Hood, Texas, in the summer of 2007, while Christopher Gray was deployed to Iraq, Bahena said.

“I cried because for me, Lea was there,” she said. “I saw Lea in the apartment. Walking around.”

Army Maj. Veronica Hansen, the deputy staff judge advocate at the Camp Henry legal office, was escorting the Bahenas, the women said.

Because a full inventory is not yet done, the women were allowed to take only a few items from the apartment — some clothing, shoes and a handbag.

Meanwhile, Marilyn Bahena remains insistent that when authorities release Lea Gray’s remains, they be sent to the Philippines for burial. Her severely decomposed body was found May 9 in a ditch in Waegwan.

Authorities have advised Marilyn Bahena not to brave a look at her daughter once the remains are returned.

“We don’t mind if it doesn’t look good. As long as we have her remains,” she said. “But for me, I want to see her.”

The Bahenas also are keeping a close eye on Lea Gray’s daughter Bianca, 7, who last week caught a glimpse of a newspaper article about Gray’s court-martial.

Bianca is not Christopher Gray’s biological child.

“She didn’t read it all, but she read some,” Bahena said. “I even ask her: ‘What do you think of it?’

“‘I miss Mama, Mama Lea.’ And I told her, ‘What about Chris?’ And she said, ‘I miss him a little bit.’ I think she doesn’t understand.

“And later in the afternoon, she told me that she cried, and I asked her, ‘What made you cry?’

The child answered that it was a quote in the article from prosecutor Capt. Kevin Hynes telling jurors about Bianca: “Never again will she hear her mother’s voice; never again will she feel her mother’s embrace.”

“I really pity Bianca,” Bahena said. “Why did Chris do it? Why did he kill Lea? If Lea cheated him, why did he not divorce Lea? He has no right to kill Lea just like that.”

Disbarred JAG taught ethics at LSU

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A former senior judge advocate general duped the Air Force into letting him practice for more than 20 years with no law license, a military court decided Wednesday.

A jury of officers convicted Col. Michael D. Murphy of three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, one count of failing to obey a lawful order, and three counts of larceny related to travel expenses for teaching engagements outside the service.

All the charges carry prison time — 41 years maximum — but Murphy won’t spend a day behind bars and gets to leave the Air Force without penalty because a judge previously ruled his defense was compromised by the classified nature of some of his work.

Murphy went on trial Monday at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., where he once headed the Air Force Legal Operations Agency. The 10-member jury returned its verdicts late Wednesday.

Much of the trial centered on the larceny charges. Murphy accepted teaching assignments from the National Institute for Trial Advocacy Gulf Coast region, Louisiana State University and at a private Canadian law firm. On those trips, Murphy taught ethics to trial lawyers.

The organizations paid Murphy’s hotel and travel expenses, but Murphy also billed the Air Force for the trips and recouped extra cash, said Col. Polly Kenny for the prosecution.  Defense attorneys Maj. Gwendolyn Beitz and Maj. Amy Jordan countered that Murphy filed the expense paperwork by mistake and was not attempting to steal from the Air Force.

Several general officers took to the witness stand — some testifying for the prosecution, others for the defense. They mostly spoke of Murphy’s character, which they described as sound. A few, however, remarked they wouldn’t have confided in the one-star select or discussed classified information if they had known he was disbarred.

The ruling that keeps Murphy from going to prison relates to his work in the White House Military Office from 2001 to 2005. Because of the secrecy of the position, the White House refused to release Murphy’s service record.

In September, Army Col. Stephen Henley ruled that without the record the defense would be unable to demonstrate Murphy’s good conduct and performance during the sentencing phase of the trial, which he called “a substantial right of a military accused.” Based on that reasoning, the judge declared Murphy could receive no punishment.

The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, headed by Chief Judge Air Force Col. James Wise, upheld Henley’s decision in December.

The Air Force began investigating Murphy in November 2006 after a check of Texas legal records showed he had been disbarred in the early 1980s. Further investigation showed Murphy had been barred from practicing in Louisiana and U.S. District Court.


Army’s Fat Recruit Problem

GI Charged in Contractor’s Murder

BAGHDAD – A U.S. Soldier has been charged with murdering a foreign contractor at an American base in Taji, Iraq, the military said Sunday.  Pfc. Carl T. Stovall III, a 25-year-old Soldier from Kennesaw, Ga., is accused of shooting the foreign laborer on March 26, the military said in a written statement. Military prosecutors handed down the murder charge Saturday.

Stovall’s unit has been in Iraq less than a month, said military spokesman Master Sgt. Nicholas Conner. He declined to provide any more details about the shooting.  “It’s an ongoing investigation, so there’s just not a whole lot we can talk about,” Conner said.

The laborer, who the military would not identify, worked for Toifor, a private international company that provides various support services on U.S. military bases in Iraq, including potable water distribution, trash removal and portable toilets for Soldiers.  The military wouldn’t give the victim’s nationality, except to say he wasn’t Iraqi or American. Toifor couldn’t be reached Sunday.  The U.S. base where the shooting occurred is about 12 miles north of Baghdad and is home to several thousand Soldiers.

Stovall is assigned to the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, which is part of the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.  He was arrested the day of the shooting and remains in U.S. custody, Conner said, though he wouldn’t disclose where Stovall is being held.  His case will be handled by U.S. officials, Conner added.

The military issued a statement about the shooting Sunday after a McClatchy reporter asked about the contractor’s death.  Stovall’s family couldn’t be reached for comment.

GI Charged in Girl’s Barracks Death

A 19-year-old Fort Lewis, Wash., Soldier will face a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Leah King, who died on post last month, the Army announced Tuesday.  Pvt. Timothy E. Bennitt, from Rolling Prairie, Ind., also was charged with wrongful distribution of controlled substances and conspiracy to wrongfully use controlled substances.

Bennitt is a heavy construction equipment operator assigned to the 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade on Fort Lewis. He joined the military in June 2007 and arrived at Fort Lewis in December 2007.  Convictions on the charges could send Bennitt to military prison for 82 years, and result in a dishonorable discharge from the military.

King, a 16-year-old Lakes High School sophomore, died Feb. 15 from a lethal dose of drugs she helped Bennitt obtain, according to charging statements. She was found in the barracks, a dormitory-style area where Soldiers reside in individual rooms.  Using a rolled-up dollar bill, she inhaled a combination of Xanax, an anti-depressant, and Opana, a painkiller. The drugs, originally in pill form, were crushed into powder, removing the time-release protection they otherwise would have had, investigators found.

“On behalf of the commanding general and staff here at Fort Lewis, we would like to express condolences to the family of Ms. King,” said Col. John Robinson, I Corps spokesman, reading from a prepared statement.  He added that King’s family had been told about the charges against Bennitt.

King’s death and the inquiry by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division revealed what Robinson called a conspiracy to distribute drugs (Xanax, Opana, Percocet and marijuana) to other Soldiers.  No other Soldiers have been charged in the case, but the investigation is ongoing, Robinson said.

Another 16-year-old girl who went to the post with Bennitt and King will not face charges. The second girl was found unresponsive the night of the incident, and released from a hospital after treatment.  No other Soldiers were in the room with Bennitt and the two girls, Robinson said.

Bennitt and King had been dating for 30 days at the time of the incident, Robinson said. Bennitt found King unconscious, tried to revive her, then reported the incident to superiors, who called for emergency aid.  The narrative of charges states that Bennitt bought drugs on Feb. 14 from an unnamed individual, using King as the go-between.

“Bennitt asked Ms. King to arrange a meeting with (the individual) to buy controlled substances, provided Ms. King U.S. currency,” the records stated.  Robinson would not say whether the drugs were bought on post or elsewhere. He said that element of the case is still under investigation.

Robinson noted that Bennitt had failed a urinalysis test in January. Commanders learned the result in early February, and were still considering disciplinary action against Bennitt at the time of King’s death. Such matters are handled on a case-by-case basis, Robinson said. He added that Bennitt had no prior record of failed tests, which are conducted randomly.

King and the other 16-year-old were not signed into the barracks — a violation of policy, officials said. Bennitt drove them onto the post through the main gate in a friend’s pickup truck. The two girls showed high school ID cards to gain access.  They should have signed into the barracks at another checkpoint, the charge of quarters, but did not.

“If that had happened, they would have been or should have been turned away from the barracks,” said Joseph Piek, Fort Lewis spokesman.

The case has prompted tougher screening of minors entering the post after hours, officials said.  Minors now are screened at the gate for identification, destination and the purpose of the visit. Minors must sign in at the Fort Lewis Visitors Center. Officials have also ordered increased random checks of vehicles and barracks.

Robinson said the new entry requirements attempt to beef up security while allowing freedom of movement on the post, which he compared to a small city where residents shop, attend school and church and visit with friends and family.  “This is not a prison,” he said. “It’s a military installation where families go about their lives. There’s always a balance between absolute security and quality of life.”

The next stage in the case is an Article 32 hearing. The date has not been set. The result of the hearing will determine whether Bennitt will be sent to a court-martial, which could lead to conviction or acquittal.  Bennitt was still with his unit Tuesday. Military officials expected to decide whether he would be sent to pre-trial confinement, but there was no word on that decision Tuesday.

Punishment More Likely For Some Wounded US Soldiers.   The Washington Times /AP (3/11, Maurer) reports US Army Warrior Transition units were “created for troops recovering from injuries,” but commanders “at Fort Bragg’s transition unit readily acknowledge holding them to the same standards as able-bodied soldiers in combat units, often assigning chores as punishment for minor infractions. The unit has a discipline rate three times as high as Fort Bragg’s main tenant, the 82nd Airborne Division, and transition units at two other bases punish their soldiers even more frequently than the one at Fort Bragg, according” to a review of records. Advocates for wounded soldiers “question whether the tough-love approach is an effort to get rid of soldiers considered unlikely to return to regular duty.”

Fire at Fort Benning landmark shakes military postPost police officers arrived at the Judge Advocate General’s office first, and forced their way in to see paper burning in piles on several desks.


Former Navy Officer Accused Of Defrauding 9/11 Fund.   The AP (3/11, Pickler) reports, “A retired U.S. Navy commander awarded for his service during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks went on trial Tuesday on charges that he used an old injury to get money from the victims’ compensation fund.”

“In opening arguments, a federal prosecutor accused Charles Coughlin and his wife, Sabrina, of stealing $331,034 from the fund by filing a false claim saying that the injury was from the terrorist attack. … Attorneys for the Coughlins said the claim was legitimate. They said Charles Coughlin seriously injured his neck when a plane crashed into the Pentagon about 75 feet from his office and pieces of the ceiling hit his head. They said he was hurt again when he went back into the burning building to rescue others and ran into a door jam. … Coughlin was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and Purple Heart for his actions and injuries that day.”

“Prosecutors contend Coughlin’s symptoms are from a 1998 injury that he suffered while doing home repairs. Justice Department attorney Susan Menzer suggested he wrote his own Purple Heart commendation and it was approved by military leaders busy preparing for war who took him at his word. … ‘This case is about greed — simple, old-fashioned greed,’ Menzer said. She described the Coughlins as ‘schemers’ and ‘opportunists’ who took advantage of the generous fund that Congress designed to give quick compensation to those physically injured and the families of those killed in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.”

      The Washington Post (3/11, B08, Wilber) reports, “Charles E. Coughlin is either a hero or a crook, according to two portraits of the former Navy commander that emerged yesterday at his trial on charges that he lied about injuries he suffered Sept. 11, 2001, to collect tens of thousands of dollars from a victim’s compensation fund.”

“Coughlin, 49, of Severna Park was indicted in October on charges of mail fraud, theft of public money and filing false claims in the scheme. Coughlin’s wife, Sabrina, 47, is also on trial, charged with stealing government property. … Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan E. Menzer accused Coughlin yesterday of falsely claiming that he suffered a debilitating injury while working at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, as an excuse to apply for compensation from the Justice Department’s Victim’s Compensation Fund. Menzer said Coughlin lied on forms and at a hearing to collect the money. He also hid information from his doctors about previous injuries, including a degenerative neck problem that had plagued him for years before the attacks, Menzer said. … Despite claiming that he was suffered a disability, Coughlin continued to play sports. He ran a marathon in December 2001 and played lacrosse at a tournament in Vail, Colo., in 2004, Menzer said, showing jurors a photograph of Coughlin in the tournament. Coughlin eventually collected $331,034 from the fund. Prosecutors have said he used the money to pay off auto loans and to buy a $1 million home.”

AIR FORCE DOING THEIR PART JAG warns against March Madness office pools

Jeremy Cameron, a judge advocate at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, cited Defense Department rules in his warning to airmen: “According to the Joint Ethics

AF Nurse Charged in 3 Patients’ Deaths – SAN ANTONIO – An Air Force nurse has been charged with murder for allegedly giving lethal amounts of medication to three terminally ill patients in his care over one month last summer, military officials said Tuesday.

Capt. Michael Fontana, 35, was formally charged Monday by the Air Force with deliberately giving three Wilford Hall Medical Center patients lethal amounts of medication, and with conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly changing a medical record for one of the patients.

The Air Force began investigating after another staff member at the San Antonio hospital discovered irregularities in Fontana’s administration of medications that may have resulted in the death of a terminally ill patient, Air Force spokesman David Smith said.

The investigation, which began in August, revealed that two other patients in Fontana’s care in July may have received lethal amounts of medication. Fontana, an intensive care unit nurse, was removed from duty as soon as the irregularity was reported.

Fontana continues to work in the hospital but is not allowed contact with patients or records, Smith said Tuesday.

Relatives of Fontana’s alleged victims were notified of the investigation, Smith said. He declined to provide any details about them, saying only that they were “end-of-life terminally ill patients” and not believed to be veterans of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Smith declined to speculate on a motive but said that to his knowledge, the patients had not requested assistance to end their lives.

An Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent to a grand jury proceeding, will be conducted in the next few weeks, and the hospital commander will decide whether the case goes to court martial.  Smith said the case is the first in at least 10 years in which an Air Force medical personnel member is accused of deliberately killing a patient.

Fontana, who previously worked as an EMT nurse in Austin, has been in the Air Force since 2006 and served a tour at the military hospital in Balad, Iraq, from August to December 2007, Smith said. Investigators reviewed his work there and found no irregularities, he said.

The Texas Board of Nursing lists Fontana as a registered nurse since 2000 and has no current disciplinary action against him.

As part of Congress’ latest round of base closures and realignments, Wilford will become an outpatient surgical center in 2011. Brooke Army Medical Center, across town at Fort Sam Houston, will expand and take in Wilford’s other cases.

Lawyer for Canadian Detainee at Guantanamo Fired From Case

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, April 4 — A Navy lawyer who clashed with superiors over defense tactics for a Canadian detainee at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, , has been fired from the case, officials said Saturday.

Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, the Pentagon-appointed attorney for Omar Khadr, was reassigned Friday after an internal probe into his conduct, said Michael Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel at Guantanamo.

In his two years on the case, Kuebler campaigned for Khadr’s return to Canada to short-circuit a military tribunal system he described as unfair. Like all Guantanamo prosecutions, the case is on hold pending a review by President Obama’s administration.

The chief defense counsel at Guantanamo, Air Force Col. Peter R. Masciola, said he opened the investigation because of concerns about Kuebler’s management of the defense team, which includes U.S. and Canadian lawyers.

The team representing Omar Khadr had become dysfunctional, Masciola said in an interview. He said he could not elaborate because of privacy concerns and attorney-client privilege.

Kuebler feuded over strategy with one of Khadr’s Canadian attorneys, Dennis Edney, who said Saturday that he accepts the military’s decision. But another member of the defense team, Nathan Whitling, said the strongest discord was between Kuebler and Masciola.

I think the only person who should be firing Omar’s lawyer is Omar, and Omar is not the one who has fired his lawyer, Whitling said.

The Canadian government is seeking more information on Kuebler’s dismissal, said Catherine Loubier, a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

In February, Kuebler alleged that the investigation was related to his criticism of Masciola’s management. Officials denied Kuebler’s assertion.

Khadr, a Toronto native, is accused of killing U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer with a grenade during a 2002 battle in , when Khadr was 15.



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