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Soldier gets 6 months in prison, Army discharge in Danny Chen case

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A soldier who pleaded guilty this morning to his involvement in the hazing-related suicide of Pvt. Danny Chen was sentenced to six months in prison.

The military judge also ruled that Spc. Ryan Offutt will be demoted to private and receive a bad conduct discharge.

Offutt, whose court-martial was scheduled for this morning, pleaded guilty to one count of hazing and two specifications of maltreatment. In exchange for his plea and a promise to testify against the other Fort Wainwright, Alaska, soldiers involved in the death, other charges against Offutt were dropped. He was the second soldier whose case has come before a Fort Bragg military judge.

Chen, of New York, shot himself Oct. 3 in a guard tower near Kandahar. Army officials have said Chen was driven to suicide after suffering racial taunts and physical abuse at the hands of soldiers in his company.

Offutt apologized this afternoon for his role in Chen's death. He said he knew what he was doing to Chen was wrong. He said he mistreated the 19-year-old because he saw others - people who he looked up to and respected - doing the same. Offutt said he also suffered from a traumatic brain injury.

His lawyers asked for a reduction in rank to private first class, forfeiture of $1,500 and 60 days of hard labor without confinement.

Prosecutors had asked for a demotion to private, six to eight months incarceration, a bad conduct discharge and forfeiture of all pay and benefits.

Offutt was accused of calling Chen derogatory names, kicking him and throwing rocks and water bottles at him. He also grabbed Chen by his vest and dragged him, court documents say.

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The Army had charged Offutt with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, four counts of maltreatment of a subordinate, three counts of assault and two counts of violation of a lawful general regulation.

Last month, Sgt. Adam Holcomb was convicted of mistreating Chen days before Chen's suicide, but he was acquitted of being a cause of Chen's death. Holcomb was sentenced to 30 days in a military prison, demotion of one rank and forfeiture of more than $1,100 in pay.

Six other soldiers in the 25th Infantry Division also are charged in Chen's death.

This afternoon soldiers in Chen's unit described Offutt's behavior toward Chen, including the name-calling and physical abuse. The judge today heard statements from soldiers who previously served with Offutt and from members of Offutt's family.

They described Offutt as a good guy who didn't show any signs of racism. But they said he changed after he returned from Afghanistan for a rest and relaxation break in July 2011. They said he was more irritable and more impatient.

Offutt came from a poor family in Pennsylvania. He dropped out of high school because he had poor grades, and he originally could not get into the military, according to testimony. Offutt couldn't pass the entry exam for the Army or the Navy, but he made it into the National Guard and switched to active duty, according to testimony.

Earlier, Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese-Americans, said she had hoped Offutt would receive the maximum sentence and was discharged from the Army.

"There is no room in the military for a soldier who has pled guilty to racist maltreatment and hazing,'' she said.

Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at brooksd@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3567.

 

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