YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A USS Kitty Hawk sailor has been charged with the killing in March of his 1-month-old son, base officials said Thursday.

Seaman Robert J. Howard, 21, is charged with murder, maiming, eight counts of assault and three counts of making false official statements.

Howard, an E-3 and hospital corpsman from Colfax, Wash., has been confined in the Yokosuka brig since March 9.

An Article 32 hearing, to determine whether military prosecutors have enough evidence to take the case to a court-martial, is scheduled for Aug. 4 at the Trial Service Office in Yokosuka.

Cmdr. John Wallach, spokesman for Commander, Naval Forces Japan, said the case came to authorities’ attention after paramedics were called about the baby on March 9.

Wallach said the call came from somewhere on base but declined to offer more specifics.

The baby was taken to the base hospital and died shortly after arrival there, Wallach said.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigators took Howard into custody that evening.

Wallach declined to discuss the nature of the baby’s injuries or say what evidence pointed to Howard.

The Kitty Hawk left Yokosuka for a three-month cruise on Feb. 18 but Howard was not aboard. Lt. Brook Dewalt, Kitty Hawk spokesman, said that was because Howard had been granted leave to be home for the baby’s birth. Dewalt said he did not know when Howard had been scheduled to return to the ship.

The baby was born in February, during a record month for the number of births at the base hospital. At least seven babies born that month had a parent from the Kitty Hawk, according to the hospital, and several of the fathers had requested leave.

Howard’s mother, Patti Ann Howard, reached by phone at her home in Colfax, Wash., declined to comment on the case although she did say she was aware her son had been charged. She referred questions to one of Howard’s defense lawyers, Lt. Mike Luken in Honolulu. He could not be reached for comment.

Yokosuka criminal defense officials refused to say why a Honolulu military defense lawyer had been assigned to the case, other than to say they don’t discuss how they assign cases.

Lt. Christopher Phan is the prosecutor on the case. Phan was one of two Yokosuka prosecutors assigned to a similar case on Guam that ended in acquittal in April.

In that case, Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Shepherd, assigned to the Marianas Training Office, was accused of murdering his 1-month-old son last September. Doctors testified in that case that the infant was killed from repeated shaking that ruptured veins in his brain and eyes.

According to news reports, the court-martial panel was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Shepherd who had shaken the infant. Defense lawyers argued it could have been Shepherd’s ex-wife or a baby-sitter.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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