YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A U.S. Army major pleaded guilty Monday to four charges, including assault and obstruction of justice, but denied prosecutors’ contention he intentionally killed his wife last August.

In his own words, Maj. Richard K. Hart detailed for military judge Lt. Col. Edward O’Brien the events that led to his arrest for the death of Patricia Ann Hart. Her naked body was found Aug. 12 beneath a bridge leading to Incheon International Airport.

The officer said his wife became enraged in their Itaewon apartment the night of Aug. 8 when she found he was not wearing his wedding band. She woke him up by hitting him in the face, and then proceeded to hit and scream at him, Hart said.

She threatened to throw herself off the balcony and wrapped a cord around her neck, threatening to strangle herself, Hart told the court. Hart said he tried to leave, but his wife came at him again.

The two struggled, he slapped her and the two fell down, Hart said. He got up and left. Three or four hours later, Hart said, he returned and expected to find his wife sleeping or “doing something normal.” Instead, “it was clear she was not alive.”

Hart said he panicked, and although he had seen dead U.S. and enemy soldiers, “I simply did not know what to do.” Hart said he thought because of his family’s turbulent past — including a history of domestic violence — he would be blamed for his wife’s death.

So in the early morning of Aug. 12, he said, he wrapped her body in plastic. Hart then drove to the Yong Jong Bridge on the way to Incheon International Airport. He said his intention was to hide the body and “hope that she’d never be found.”

He thought there was water below the bridge, but his wife’s naked body landed in a fairly dry area. After throwing her from the bridge, Hart said, he was arrested immediately by South Korean police who happened upon the scene.

Hart pleaded guilty Monday to obstruction of justice for that act. He also pleaded guilty to adultery for a more than three-year relationship with a Korean woman and to disobeying an order to give a handwriting sample in December.

Hart also pleaded guilty to assault consummated by a battery for punching his daughter in the nose on Dec. 17, 2002. Prosecutors, however, have charged him with aggravated assault and are pursuing prosecution on the more severe charge.

Hart has pleaded innocent to murder and another aggravated assault charge. Prosecutors contend that he hit his wife in the face repeatedly and kicked her in the stomach on Dec. 9, 2000, when stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash.

Hart, who formerly worked at the Korea Battle Simulation Center, is represented by Capt. James Culp of Trial Defense Services and a civilian attorney, Gary Myers. In the 1970s, Myers defended a soldier accused in the My Lai incident in Vietnam. Myers also has been retained as an attorney for Staff Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick, accused of mistreating and assaulting Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Hart originally had opted for a jury trial but since has asked that the case be heard solely by O’Brien.

Prosecuting Hart for the government are Lt. Col. Craig A. Meredith, commander of Legal Services Activity Korea, and Capt. Demaris Johanek.

In opening statements, Johanek said Patricia Hart came to South Korea in the summer of 2003 to be with her husband and preserve a family. “It’s that devotion that caused her death,” said Johanek, who displayed a large photo of a smiling Hart in his dress uniform, posing with his wife.

But Myers countered that the Harts were one of the most “quintessential dysfunctional families that this court will ever see.” Hart, his wife and their daughter frequently beat each other in a relentless cycle of physical and mental abuse, Myers said.

The defense’s forensic pathologist will testify that Patricia Hart died of a heart arrhythmia, not blunt force trauma as originally concluded, Myers said. Hart’s post-mortem conduct is reprehensible, he said, but “does that mean he murdered her?”

“He made a horrendous choice to do what he did but there is no evidence, your honor, that this woman was murdered or he intended her death,” Myers said.

Among witnesses heard Monday was Maj. Andrew McDonald, a reservist who lived two doors down from the Harts on Fort Lewis in December 2000. He testified that Patricia Hart came to their door late one night bleeding from the nose after a fight with her husband, saying he hit and grabbed her.

When asked how he evaluated the Hart family’s situation, McDonald said, “We feared that Patty may end up dead.”

Jun Ki-jung of the Incheon Highway Patrol testified that he saw Hart on the Yong Jong Bridge the morning of Aug. 12. He said he saw Hart trying to unload from his car something wrapped in plastic. Jun said when he touched the plastic, “it felt like some part of a human body. It felt like a leg.”

Jun said he called for backup but Hart got in the driver’s seat and drove away with the car door open. Closed-circuit television video played during court showed Hart drove a bit farther and stopped the car. At that time, Jun said, he observed Hart put the plastic item on the bridge and shove it off.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now