Monday morning, July 30, closing arguments were presented in the court-martial of Sgt. Adam Holcomb in connection with the suicide of Pvt. Danny Chen. Following a lunch recess, the jury went into deliberations.
The 10-member military jury reconvened at about 3:45p.m. to present their findings.
Holcomb was found guilty of two of the four charges against him and faces a maximum of 2 1/2years in prison.
On the hazing charge he was found not guilty.
The two charges of assault, guilty.
One charge of maltreatment, guilty.
The negligent homicide and reckless endangerment, not guilty.
Lt. Gen. Daniel Allyn, the general court-martial convening authority and 18th Airborne Corps Commander, will make the final judgment. He can either change or accept the findings of the jury panel.
During a time of war when the platoon that Pvt. Danny Chen was assigned to was greatly under strength at 26, versus the 40 soldiers it should have had, the defense argued that Chen was targeted as a result of his deficiencies, not his Asian heritage.
The military jury heard closing arguments beginning with the government's burden of proof.
Maj. Steve Berlin recapped Chen’s humiliation and physical hazing that he endured at Strong Point Palace over his 43 days at war before he took his own life in a guard tower in Afghanistan.
Holcomb was referred to as Chen’s tormenter. Chen could not get away from Holcomb, one of his roommates, because Holcomb suffered an injury and was always in the CHU – the barracks type unit where the soldiers shared bunks.
The evidence of the violent abuse Chen experienced was backed up by a photograph of his bruised and cut up lower back, a result of Holcomb’s corrective training.
Chen’s bunk, the CHU, should have been a refuge for sleep when not on duty, but it did not appear that way according to testimony by peers throughout the week. As a result, Chen was often found sleeping outside of his CHU, sometimes on guard duty, and even one time in a Porta-potty.
Besides the disparaging nicknames stemming from his Asian heritage, it was brought forth that Chen suffered physical abuse by Holcomb -- on one occasion he was pulled from the top bunk of his bed and dragged out across sharp rocks to the laundry point because he had forgotten to turn off the hot water heater to the shower.
The lasting effects of the abuse were apparent in the way Chen carried himself; he had told a close peer, Pfc. Berhe, that he wanted to commit suicide because of how the NCOs treated him.
A picture was painted to the jury of how the stress and rigors of war took a toll on the unprepared soldier at a time when he was looking for guidance and to be accepted by members of his platoon when he indicated his family was no longer there for him.
The defense firmly stood by Holcomb's plea of innocence, arguing that a suicide had been placed on trial and that nothing exists to warrant the charge of negligent homicide.
Cpt. Anthony Osborne argued that Chen was targeted not because of his Asian heritage, but rather because he had been deployed by the Army unprepared and not properly screened.
“There in not evidence to support charges ... beyond a reasonable doubt,” stated Osborne.
An argument was also made based on the use of poor techniques by the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) team. Osborne stated that the on the stand one of the CID officers was evasive and the other was kicked out of the Army for impersonating another CID officer. According to the defense team, this influenced the younger privates who testified and therefore ultimately influenced their testimony.
According to an Army regulation regarding hazing, paragraph 4-2 states that hazing is when a ceremony, rights of passage or activity takes place, which was not the case between Chen and Holcomb.
Chen served with the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Seven of the eight courts-martial have been moved to Fort Bragg at the request of Maj. Gen. James Huggins, the 82nd Airborne commander who oversaw Chen's unit during the deployment.
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