Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix will spend the next 10 years in prison after a court-martial sentenced him Friday for abusing recruits at Parris Island, one of whom jumped over a stairwell and fell to his death after Felix slapped him.
Felix will also be reduced in rank to E1, forfeit all pay and allowances, and he will ultimately receive a dishonorable discharge, said Capt. Joshua Pena, a spokesman for Training and Education Command.
The former drill instructor was taken into custody on Friday and will initially be held in the brig at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Pena told Marine Corps Times. Prosecutors recommended that Felix be sentenced to seven years in prison, but his defense attorney asked military jurors to only give him 30 days’ confinement.
On Thursday, a court-martial found Felix guilty of maltreatment, violation of a lawful general order and dereliction of duty, making a false official statement, and drunk and disorderly conduct, Corps officials said. Felix was acquitted of obstruction of justice and one specification of violation of a general order.
Originally an air traffic controller, Felix has served in the Marine Corps for 15 years and is a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He has four daughters.
Before being sentenced, Felix asked jurors for leniency, saying he is devoted to his wife and family, Military.com reported on Friday.
“I’m a shattered man as I stand before you,” Military.com quoted him as saying. “The girls in my life are the only thing that are keeping the pieces together.”
Felix had been accused of hitting, slapping and choking recruits from three different platoons at Parris Island. The prosecution argued that he specifically targeted Muslims, such as Raheel Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Pakistani-American recruit from Michigan. Witnesses testified that Felix referred to Siddiqui and other Muslims as “terrorists.”
On March 18, 2016, Siddiqui handed his drill instructors a note saying his throat was so swollen that he could not speak, but Felix made him run to one end of the squad bay and back for not giving the greeting of the day. Eventually, Siddiqui collapsed while holding his throat. Felix slapped Siddiqui in the face while he was on the floor, and Siddiqui rain to a nearby stairwell and leapt to his death.
Siddiqui’s family is suing the government for $100 million, alleging the government was negligent in his death.
Prosecutors argued that Felix targeted two other Muslims for abuse. Marine veteran Rekan Hawez, who was born in Iraqi Kurdistan, testified that Felix ordered him to get inside a commercial dryer by telling him, “Hey ISIS, get in.” Felix let him get out without turning the dryer on, Hawez said.
Lance Cpl. Ameer Bourmeche testified that Felix and fellow drill instructor Sgt. Michael Eldridge ordered him to climb inside a dryer, too. This time, the dryer was turned on three times and the drill instructors only let Bourmeche out after he said he was no longer a Muslim, he said. Separately, Felix made him simulate chopping another Marine’s head off while yelling “Allahu akbar,” Bourmeche said.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat whose congressional district includes Siddiqui’s hometown, was the first public official to raise the possibility that hazing played a role in Siddiqui’s death.
“What happened to Raheel Siddiqui at Parris Island was a dereliction of duty and a tragedy,” Dingell said in a statement on Friday. “This young man was a son, brother, a class valedictorian and a patriot whose dream was to serve the country he loved and defend the freedoms many of us take for granted. Instead, Raheel and other recruits were targeted, degraded and mistreated by the individual charged.”
Dingell said she will ask officials to take another look at whether Siddiqui’s death should be ruled a suicide in light of evidence that was presented at Felix’ trial.
“No matter what we do, we cannot bring Raheel back, but we must ensure that justice is served and that those responsible are held to account,” Dingell said. “I will continue working closely with the Marine Corps and the Siddiqui family to ensure justice is done and that we can prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.”