Opinion

What Would A Warrior Do?: In defense of Marine Raider charged with manslaughter

Our military is well-stocked with warriors — from our special operators to those who provide service support. Unfortunately, each community also has its percentage of bureaucrats-in-uniform.

Those of us who have served know full well the difference between the two, almost instinctively.

One gives; the other takes. One voluntarily endures hardship; the other avoids discomfort. One is more concerned with selfless service to our Nation; the other is primarily focused on selfishly serving himself. One, a private first class who forfeits liberty to stand a buddy’s watch; the other, an officer who places his own career above troop welfare.

Recently at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, there was a standoff between exemplars of these two extremes during the arraignment of the government’s charges in the general court-martial of Gunnery Sgt. Josh Negron, a Marine Raider.

Negron has been charged with manslaughter, despite eyewitness testimony that states, and video evidence captured during the incident that shows, Negron acted in lawful defense of a fellow Raider from an assault initiated by a severely intoxicated, bullying, U.S. civilian contractor who was much larger than him.

Moreover, Negron acted with the measured restraint of a disciplined warrior. As the contractor was milliseconds away from delivering a drunken haymaker punch to the other Raider’s face, Negron ended the confrontation using one punch. Just one punch.

The contractor’s “friends” dispersed, leaving the aggressor passed-out, snoring, in the middle of the street overseas. But the contractor didn’t remain there. Who brought him back to the safety of the base and watched over him? It was ­Negron and his two companions, including the one who was attacked for no reason.

Regrettably, the contractor never regained consciousness. Hours later, either from injury not apparent to a trained independent duty corpsman, or from a pre-existing medical issue made worse by excessive alcohol consumption, the contractor stopped breathing and, despite medical attention, died four days later.

While all of this is very tragic, none of it equates to manslaughter, and the convening authority, Marine Maj. Gen. Daniel D. Yoo, knows it.

A warrior would look at the lack of competent evidence in this case, along with the impeccable military character of Negron and the other two co-accused, and dismiss any charges with prejudice. A bureaucrat-in-uniform would instead do exactly what Yoo has done: put ­Negron and his brothers in a fight for their lives by charging a sad accident, brought about by the aggression and bullying of the deceased, as a crime.

A warrior would consider the wisdom of his properly trained advisers before making the call; a bureaucrat-in-uniform would instead do exactly what Yoo has done — utterly ignore the warning of a judge advocate colonel, an experienced military judge who served as the preliminary hearing officer in this case, that there is no probable cause for certain allegations to even go to trial, ignore his emphasis on the manifest evidence of lawful self defense and Negron’s defense of a third party, and refer all charges to trial regardless.

A warrior would be mindful of his oath to our Constitution, a bureaucrat-in-uniform would ignore the constitutional presumption of innocence and instead assume the accused guilty before receiving any evidence or investigation and then later send the case to trial, a case which any experienced civilian prosecutor with an ounce of integrity would not let anywhere near a courtroom.

Overcharging of warriors by bureaucrats-in-uniform has a sadly long and disgraceful history in military justice. It’s a typical game, and an abusive tactic, used by a certain type of commander to get accused service members to accept plea bargains to “lesser charges.” It is very successful at gaining quick prosecutorial victories without having to put “proof” to the test, i.e., without wasting time and exposure in contested public trials.

Overcharging is so effective that some defense attorneys advise their clients to accept “sweetheart deals” simply ­because the danger of conviction at a general court-martial, which often feature false testimony of government witnesses, is so great, and possible punishment so severe.

Moreover, the bureaucrats-in-uniform who use this manipulative tactic often see it, quite accurately, as a way to score points toward that next promotion, or to ingratiate themselves with their bosses.

However, that overcharging tactic didn’t work with Negron. According to his attorney, Negron has considered and refused the “sweetheart deal” he was offered at his arraignment. Since Negron is being forced into a trial, he intends to let the whole truth come out there.

The specifics of Negron’s offer were not disclosed, but the offer was described by his attorney as “significantly reduced possible punishment, and eliminating the most serious charges, in exchange for giving assistance and testimony helpful to the prosecution testimony that would frankly be false, and that’s something Gunny Negron absolutely would never do. Nobody with integrity would commit perjury. I’m proud beyond words to stand for him, and with him. He is factually and legally innocent. Period.”

As such, we call upon Yoo to find that moral courage within himself to do the right thing, dismiss the charges against Negron and his two co-accused brothers, put an end to this unjust game, and let Negron continue the fight against our Nation’s enemies instead of fighting against the military justice system.

Lt. Col. David “Bull” Gurfein (Ret.) is the CEO of United American Patriots which informs the president, Congress, and the public; funds legal representation; and supports reintegration for U.S. warriors wrongfully accused & unjustly convicted.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent those of Marine Corps Times or its staffers. To submit a rebuttal or separate op-ed, please contact Marine Corps Times editor Andrea Scott at ascott@militarytimes.com.

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