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Three Marines face courts-martial in hazing case

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Thu October 27, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The case involves the suicide of a Marine allegedly berated and beaten by peers
  • The dead Marine was the nephew of U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of California
  • Chu spoke about her nephew's death at a congressional hearing in September

(CNN) -- Three Marines face court-martial proceedings involving the alleged hazing of a Marine who committed suicide in Afghanistan in April.

The case drew national attention when Rep. Judy Chu of California, the aunt of the Marine who killed himself, told a congressional committee about it in September.

A Marine statement sent to CNN Thursday said the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division, Brig. Gen. Frederick Padilla, had referred charges in the case against Sgt. Benjamin E. Johns, Lance Cpl. Jacob D. Jacoby, and Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III to a general court-martial.

The three allegedly berated and assaulted Lance Cpl. Harry Lew for falling asleep while on watch when he first arrived in Afghanistan, according to Chu and a Marine investigation of the incident reported by the Marine Corps Times. Lew committed suicide by shooting himself shortly thereafter.

"Harry's death was a heartbreaking tragedy that could have been prevented," Chu said Thursday in statement issued by her office. "The decision by the Marines Corps to bring the three Marines before a jury of their peers brings comfort to the family and shows the military justice system at work."

In her September appearance at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Chu said her nephew's sergeant told fellow Marines in the unit to "teach" the 21-year-old newcomer after he was found asleep on his watch.

"Lance Corporal Lew was beaten, berated and forced to perform rigorous exercise," she said then. "He was forced to do push-ups and leg lifts wearing full body armor, and sand was poured in his mouth. He was forced to dig a hole for hours. He was kicked, punched and stomped on. And it did not stop until 3:20 a.m."

Minutes later, she said, Lew "climbed into the foxhole that he just dug and shot himself and committed suicide."

A military investigation report obtained by the Marine Corps Times said Lew killed himself with a two- or three-round burst from an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in the early hours of April 3.

According to the Marine Corps Times story on the report, a message found on Lew's arm, believed to be a suicide note, said: "May hate me now, but in the long run this was the right choice I'm sorry my mom deserves the truth."

The incident at Patrol Base Gowragi, in Nawa district, began with Lew failing to respond to radio calls late on the night of April 2, the report said. A sergeant who found him sleeping told others that "peers should correct peers," it said, as reported by the Marine Corps Times.

The report detailed how two lance corporals, whose names were redacted, berated Lew and ordered him to do exercises in body armor for four hours, with one of them stomping on Lew's legs at times.

One Marine kicked and punched Lew until being stopped by another, the report said. Less than an hour later, it said, Lew killed himself.

"At 0343 on 3 April 2011, while crouching down in the fighting position he had just dug, LCpl Lew leaned over his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon as it pointed to the sky, placed the muzzle in his mouth, pulled the trigger, and intentionally killed himself," the report said, according to the Marine Corps Times.

CNN's Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report.

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