Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix has been found guilty of physically abusing Marine recruits at Parris Island, including Raheel Siddiqui, who jumped to his death after Felix slapped him, Marine Corps Times has learned.
Felix has been at the center of the Parris Island hazing scandal that came to light after Siddiqui’s death in March 2016. Felix was accused of targeting Muslim recruits for special hazing, often calling them “terrorists.”
Felix’ trial at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will now enter the sentencing phase. Training and Education Command was expected to issue a statement about the jury’s verdict later on Thursday night.
Initially a 7257 air traffic controlman, Felix has serve in the Marine Corps for 15 years and is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran. He has four daughters.
Prosecutors had argued that Felix targeted Siddiqui as part of a wider pattern of abuse that included slapping, hitting and choking recruits. After Siddiqui died, Felix told an investigator that he intentionally treated Marines badly.
“You have to hate recruits to train them,” Felix told the investigator, according to Marine prosecutor Capt. Corey Wielert. “They get three meals a day, sleep eight hours. The more you hate them, the better you train them.”
On March 18, 2016, Siddiqui handed his drill instructors a note saying he could not talk, but Felix made him run to one end of the squad bay and back because he could not give the greeting of the day. When Siddiqui collapsed to the floor while clutching his neck, Felix slapped him. Siddiqui then ran to a nearby stairwell and leapt over the railing, falling nearly 40 feet.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Clay Bridges, Felix’s lead defense attorney, had argued in court that Felix slapped Siddiqui after other attempts to revive him did not work.
“At that point, fear and instinct kick in,” Bridges said. “Are you OK? Slap. Are you OK? Slap. It’s not maltreatment.”
However, one witness testified that Felix had told recruits prior to the incident that Siddiqui “smelled like a terrorist,” the Detroit Free Press reported. Bryce Herman said that Felix made the comment “with a straight face.”
Although several witnesses testified Felix called Siddiqi a “terrorist” and slapped him after he collapsed, former drill instructor Christopher Minie told jurors he never saw Felix physically abuse Siddiqui or single him out for punishment, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Lt. Col. John Norman argued for the prosecution that Minie was just trying to help Felix, who is his friend, the newspaper reported.
At the beginning of Felix’ trial, the military judge presiding over the court-martial told jurors that they could not draw any conclusions about what caused Siddiqui’s death. They could only recognize that Siddiqui cannot testify because he is dead.
Siddiqui’s family has filed a $100 million lawsuit against the Marine Corps, claiming that the government is responsible for the wrongful death of the 20-year-old Pakistani-American from Michigan.
Felix was accused of abusing two other Muslims: One recruit and one Marine. He allegedly ordered both to sit in a commercial dryer. Lance Cpl. Ameer Bourmeche testified that after he got in the dryer, it was turned on three times and he was only let out after he said he was no longer a Muslim.
Bourmeche also testified that Felix made him conduct a mock execution of a fellow Marine by simulating chopping his head off while yelling “Allahu akbar.”
Lance Cpl. Austin Trausi, who was in Siddiqui’s platoon, testified that Felix said Muslims should not be allowed to join the Marine Corps, media outlets reported.
“He would say: ‘Why do we let Muslim terrorists join the Marine Corps?’” Trausi testified, according to the Detroit News.