Army Pvt. Travis King is charged with desertion for bolting into North Korea while on a tour of the Demilitarized Zone in July 2023, a day after he was supposed to travel to Fort Bliss, Texas.

Army Pvt. Travis King is charged with desertion for bolting into North Korea while on a tour of the Demilitarized Zone in July 2023, a day after he was supposed to travel to Fort Bliss, Texas. (Family Photo via AP)

AUSTIN, Texas — A Fort Bliss soldier charged with desertion for running into North Korea last year will have his first preliminary hearing in court next week where his lawyers plan to present the results of a mental competency evaluation.

Pvt. Travis King, 24, faces eight charges for his July 2023 sprint from South Korea across the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea, where he stayed until the U.S. and Sweden negotiated his return in September 2023, according to court documents and the Defense Department.

King, a cavalry scout, was participating in a tour at the security area along the Demilitarized Zone on the day that he fled to North Korea. He had recently been released from a South Korean prison, where he had spent six weeks for assault charges.

He was scheduled to return to Fort Bliss, where he was supposed to face disciplinary hearings with the Army, but instead of boarding his flight, he made his way to the border tour.

The Office of Special Trial Counsel, which is handling the case, declined to release King’s charge sheet. However, officials described the charges as attempted escape from custody, soliciting someone to create child sexual abuse material, solicitation of sexual abuse of a child, desertion, disobeying a superior commissioned officer, assault on a noncommissioned officer, false official statement, assault consummated by battery and possession of child sexual abuse material.

In the months since charges were announced against him, King’s attorneys requested he undergo a psychological evaluation, which was performed by a team from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., said Frank Rosenblatt, an attorney for King.

“We’re going to introduce into evidence the document of what they found and talk about what it means,” he said Tuesday. “It was a thorough evaluation, and it took them a lot of time.”

Rosenblatt is a former Army attorney who previously served as the lead military lawyer for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who in 2017 faced a court-martial for desertion for leaving his base in Afghanistan in 2009. He was captured by the Taliban and held until May 2014.

King first enlisted in the Army in January 2021 and had no prior deployments. He was in Korea as part of a rotational deployment with the 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, according to the Army.

The evidentiary hearing will take place Tuesday at Fort Bliss, Rosenblatt said. During the hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury, one officer will hear evidence in the case and make a recommendation whether a court-martial is warranted. The Office of Special Trial Counsel will then use that recommendation to determine the legal path forward.

After King returned to the U.S., he spent three weeks in debriefings and reintegration at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas before returning to his unit at Fort Bliss, which is about 550 miles west in El Paso, Rosenblatt said.

Since the charges were announced in October, King has been detained at the Otero County Detention Center in nearby Alamogordo, N.M.

State-run media in North Korea reported last year that King told officials that he fled the U.S. because he was “disillusioned at the unequal American society,” and he wished to seek refuge in North Korea or a third country.

The Swedish government served a diplomatic role in securing King’s release and China assisted with safe transit out of North Korea for the soldier, according to the Defense Department.

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

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