Judge drops 2 charges against Sgt. Holcomb in Danny Chen court-martial
The Fayetteville Observer
A military judge dismissed two charges against Sgt. Adam Holcomb as testimony resumed Saturday in a court-martial on Fort Bragg.
Holcomb is standing trial in connection with the death of Pvt. Danny Chen in Afghanistan last year.
Chen, 19, of New York, took his own life Oct. 3, following weeks of harassment and abuse, according to prosecutors.
On Saturday, Maj. Bret Batdorff threw out two counts of violating a lawful general regulation for technical reasons. The dismissals mean Holcomb now faces a maximum of 13 years, six months in prison if convicted on all counts.
He remains charged with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat, assault, dereliction of duty, two specifications of maltreatment of a subordinate and two specifications of violating a lawful general regulation.
Saturday marked the end of the defense's case in the court-martial; however, lawyers on both sides are still able to call witnesses to to serve as rebuttal to earlier testimony.
Chen shot himself in a guard tower on Combat Outpost Palace in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
Prosecutors are trying to convince the jurors that harassment and abuse that included racial slurs and physical punishment led to Chen's suicide.
Holcomb's lawyers have maintained that Chen was not abused but received only corrective punishment.
They have maintained that Chen performed poorly in Afghanistan and was bothered by being disowned by his family - a charge several Chen family members have denied.
Holcomb, 30, of Youngstown, Ohio, was Chen's roommate and one of eight soldiers from the Fort Wainwright-based unit charged in connection with his death.
Those soldiers' company commander, Capt. Sean Allred, testified Saturday that he was unaware of any mistreatment of Chen. But, he said, he was aware of Chen's deficiencies and had planned to move him from Combat Outpost Palace in early October.
Allred said he did not think Chen was ever told of this plan.
He said he believed Chen would have been moved to the company command center on either Oct. 4 or Oct. 5. Chen committed suicide Oct.3.
Allred, who partly testified in a closed courtroom because he was sharing classified information, told jurors that he was reprimanded and relieved of command following Chen's death.
Other witnesses also testified that they never saw Holcomb punishing Chen, or that if they did, the punishment was not unwarranted.
Soldiers said Chen was often late for duty, would forget equipment and sometimes fell asleep while on guard duty.
Staff Sgt. Derrick Fox said Chen would have been the "weakest link" had he been allowed on patrol. Fox said any extra tasks Chen was told to perform were only intended to make him a better soldier.
"It was nothing that I never had done to me," he said, explaining that he never perceived Chen's treatment as abuse.
Both sides also had expert witnesses testify Saturday.
Maj. Samantha Benesh, a forensic psychologist assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, testified for the defense and Capt. Kyle Grohmann, staff psychologist at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, testified for the prosecution.
Both experts said they could not say with certainty that Holcomb's treatment of Chen was a contributing factor in his suicide.
"There is a lot that we don't know," Benesh said. "We don't have a really good idea of what Chen was thinking."
Testimony is set to resume Monday morning for what could be the sixth and last day in the court-martial.
Holcomb is the first to be court-martialed in connection with Chen's death and is also accused of mistreating another soldier.
The two dismissed counts specifically dealt with Holcomb's alleged addressing of Chen as "Dragon Lady" and his use of a variation of the n-word to describe an African-American soldier. Each of the two counts came with a maximum prison sentence of two years if he had been convicted.