CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The court-martial of the accused leader of a Camp Hansen drug ring began Wednesday with the prosecutor characterizing defendant Marine Cpl. Byron Lewis as a “drug pusher disguised as a U.S. Marine” and the defense attorney countering that “small-time Marine drug pushers” were trying to foist the blame on his client.

The trial is the eighth in a string of drug-related courts-martial.

Lewis, of III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, is accused of drug use and of conspiring to distribute cocaine, marijuana and Ecstasy, and distributing and possessing the illegal substances. During a preliminary hearing Tuesday, he pleaded not guilty to all but wrongful use of a controlled substance. Lewis said he did use marijuana once a week for two months in his Camp Hansen barracks room.

Capt. Josh Rosen, trial counsel, said Wednesday during his opening statement in Lewis’ trial, in the Legal Services Support Center on Camp Foster, that Lewis did much more than just smoke marijuana. Rosen said he would show that Lewis was integral to a “drug ring in the barracks … Barracks 2725.”

Capt. Tom Jasper, Lewis’ attorney, said that although Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigators all “drove home” that Lewis was behind the ring, the real supplier was then-Sgt. Lee Risner from 3rd Medical Battalion. Risner, since court-martialed, has been reduced in rank to private and is imprisoned, court officials said.

Jasper said his client has “acknowledged what he’s done. He’s a user, not a distributor.”

Buttressing that contention were Julio Martinez and Brandon Kelley, both Marine privates, two of the eight prosecution witnesses called to testify Wednesday. They departed from their previous statements, suggesting Wednesday that Lewis played a far less central role in the drug ring. Neither identified Risner as the supplier, but Martinez and others said they’d felt intimidated by him.

Martinez, from 3rd Medical Battalion, pleaded guilty to several charges when he was court-martialed in February, including conspiracy to distribute and use of an illegal substance. He was sentenced to seven years confinement, but he confirmed in court Wednesday that his sentence was reduced to four years after he agreed to testify against Lewis. Jasper asked why Martinez is changing his testimony now, knowing he could have years added to his sentence for breaking his plea-bargain agreement.

“Because I have to tell the truth,” Martinez said. “I can’t come here and blame someone else for something they didn’t do.”

Martinez said he implicated Lewis because Risner had threatened him and his family.

Several witnesses testified they had bought drugs from Lewis.

But others told the court they felt forced by Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents to name Lewis as the kingpin.

“If ‘Lewis’ wasn’t in the sentence, they didn’t want to hear it,” said Kelley, 3rd Medical Battalion, who said he knew nothing about Lewis but “I didn’t have any other choice than to lie.”

Lewis’ jury trial, presided over by Maj. Anthony Williams of Camp Foster, was to continue Thursday and possibly Friday. If found guilty on all charges, he could face the maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a maximum of 152 years confinement.

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