KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii — A military jury on Thursday found a Marine sergeant not guilty after he was charged 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 their verdict that Sgt. Benjamin Johns was not guilty of violating a lawful order by wrongfully humiliating and demeaning Lance Cpl. Harry Lew.
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 alleged Johns didn't intervene when a corporal punished Lew by making him carry a sandbag around the base.
Tim Bilecki, Johns' attorney, told the jury in closing arguments the foxhole was needed to protect the base, which had come under attack by Taliban fighters multiple times, and keep Lew awake while on watch duty.
He also told them Johns stopped the sandbag incident as soon as he became aware of it.
Johns is one of three Marines accused of hazing Lew, 21, in the hours before he fatally shot himself at Patrol Base Gowragi on April 3. Lew was the nephew of Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.
The first Marine to face trial in the case, Lance Cpl. Jacob Jacoby, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and demoted to private first class after pleading guilty to assault last week. A court-martial is pending for the third Marine, Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III.