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3rd Marine may face trial in desecration case

Mar. 27, 2013 - 05:05PM   |  
Sgt. Robert Richards, center, walks with his defense team, which includes Capt. Robert Boudreau, left, and attorney Guy Womack, as they leave the Criminal Justice Complex aboard Camp Lejeune on March 19.
Sgt. Robert Richards, center, walks with his defense team, which includes Capt. Robert Boudreau, left, and attorney Guy Womack, as they leave the Criminal Justice Complex aboard Camp Lejeune on March 19. (Don Bryan / The Daily News)
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The investigative officer who presided over an Article 32 hearing for one of the scout snipers involved in the videotaped incident involving Marines urinating on Taliban corpses has recommended the case go to a special court-martial.

Sgt. Robert Richards, who served as a team leader of the sniper platoon with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, during their 2011 deployment to Afghanistan, could be the third Marine to be sent to a special court-martial in connection with the case. Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, who was tasked by the commandant to oversee the case, will decide whether to uphold the recommendation. Mills is the deputy commandant for combat development and integration based in Quantico, Va.

Retired Lt. Col. Guy Womack, who represented Richards during the hearing, said while the investigative officer’s recommendation is very detailed and professional, he would’ve preferred a different outcome. Womack said it’s not clear when they’ll find out if Mills upholds the recommendation.

During Richards’ March 19 Article 32 hearing aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., Womack argued that, while foolish, urinating on the corpses shouldn’t be considered desecration. He likened the act to “black humor,” similar to jokes police officers might make after seeing a horrific crime scene.

Richards was hand-picked for the deployment because of his combat skills, Womack said. He volunteered for the deployment even though, just a year earlier, he sustained injuries on the battlefield that nearly killed him. His foot basically had to be reattached after he detonated an improvised explosive device. Shrapnel shot through his throat, destroying his Adam’s apple. He now has a titanium implant there.

Few Marines would have the courage, after nearly dying on the battlefield, to look at their wife and say, “I’m going back,” Womack said.

The hearing covered far more than just the urination incident, however. Prosecutors said several more videos filmed that day, and shown during the hearing, provided evidence of other violations of law. They argued that the Marines used excessive force that day because none of the snipers called to testify could confirm direct enemy fire.

One of the additional videos shows Richards throwing a grenade over a 10-foot-high wall without positively identifying the enemy. In another video, Richards can be heard telling his Marines that “for the next five minutes, every military age male south is hostile.”

The battalion commander on the deployment, Lt. Col. Christopher Dixon, now with 2nd Marine Division, said during his testimony that he questions whether someone at his rank could make such a declaration, let alone a sergeant. And the prosecution argued that the declaration, the use of excessive force and not clearly identifying an enemy violated the rules by which Marines fight.

Richards’ charges also include failing to properly supervise Marines; failing to require junior Marines to wear proper personal protective equipment; failing to report the negligent discharge of a grenade launcher; failing to stop the excessive and indiscriminate firing of weapons, and failing to stop the unnecessary damaging of Afghan compounds.

Two Marines, Sgts. Joseph Chamblin and Edward Deptola, already faced special court-martials for their involvement in the incident. Both were busted down in rank from staff sergeant. Chamblin was also ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Three others received nonjudicial punishments.

On the same day that the charges against Richards were announced, Capt. James Clement, the former executive officer for Kilo Company, 3/2, also was charged in connection with the incident. His charges include dereliction of duty; violation of a lawful general order; conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman for failing to properly supervise junior Marines; failing to stop the misconduct of junior Marines; failing to report misconduct, and making false statements to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigator.

His hearing date has yet to be set.

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