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Prosecutor: Military murder trial needed for sailor because civilian sentence was too light

Austin Greening. A murder trial is set to begin Friday in a military court for a sailor already convicted by a civilian court in the same incident: the killing of his best friend while they played a video game. The Navy didn't think he received a severe enough sentence.

By Brock Vergakis | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: February 6, 2016

NORFOLK (Tribune News Service) — A military prosecutor said Friday that another murder trial is warranted for a sailor – who previously served time in prison for shooting and killing his best friend – because the resulting six-month sentence was too light.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Austin Greening maintains he accidentally shot Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristopher Klubert in the face while they were playing video games. Greening was convicted in civilian court of second-degree murder in 2013, but he won a new trial and accepted a plea deal on a lesser charge.

The day Greening was released from prison in September, the military put him in the brig while he waits to face murder and obstruction of justice charges.

Greening has acknowledged he washed his hands and placed the gun in Klubert’s hand after the shooting, although he says he did so because he considered killing himselfbut couldn’t pull the trigger. Court records say Greening originally told a 911 operator Klubert shot himself.

During a the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing Friday, Lt. Adam Partridge said another trial is needed “in the interest of justice.” He also said the victim’s parents were “extraordinarily displeased” with the result of the civilian court process.

That reasoning is nonsense, said Greening’s civilian attorney, Greg McCormack. McCormack said Klubert’s parents agreed to the plea deal that could’ve resulted in a maximum sentence of three years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. McCormack said the judge rightfully used his discretion in suspending two and a half years of the three-year sentence.

“It’s unbelievable the government would do this to this man,” McCormack said. “This is just flat-out wrong.”

Partridge noted it’s rare for the military to try a case that’s already been adjudicated in civilian court, but he said this case meets his office’s threshold .

“Six months doesn’t satisfy the interest of justice,” Partridge said.

Double jeopardy, the constitutional prohibition against being tried twice for the same crime , doesn’t apply here because the first charges were in state court, while the new ones are federal.

Partridge also said a new trial could result in a punitive discharge for Greening and the Navy has the right to seek punishment for the losses it sustained in the shooting.

If convicted of murder, Greening would face a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. If he’s convicted of obstruction of justice, he would face a maximum of five years in prison. He also could face a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and reduction in rank if convicted of either charge.

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©2016 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

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Wilbur Harwell
Courtesy of the DOD

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