European edition, Tuesday, July 24, 2007

MANNHEIM, Germany — Sgt. Rodney Howell opted Monday for a judge to determine the outcome of his court-martial instead of a jury composed of fellow soldiers.

Howell faces five charges, including involuntary manslaughter, in a 2005 alleged gang initiation beating that resulted in the death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

Last Thursday, a jury convicted Pvt. Terrence Norman of involuntary manslaughter and associated charges in Johnson’s death. Shortly after the conviction, the jury gave Norman his maximum possible sentence of 12 years confinement, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. The next day, Howell and his attorneys requested court-martial by judge alone.

Howell’s court-martial began Monday in Mannheim with Col. Julie Hasdorff presiding as judge. As of Monday afternoon, the prosecution had called several witnesses. If found guilty on all charges, Howell could be sentenced to a maximum of 24 years behind bars.

Prosecuting attorney Capt. Rebecca DiMuro said the case was about Howell’s taking responsibility for the results of his actions.

“Like wolves on a piece of meat is how the eyewitness will describe how for six minutes nine men beat Sergeant Johnson,” DiMuro said.

As many as nine current or former servicemembers beat Johnson at the initiation to the Gangster Disciples on July 3, 2005, near Kaiserslautern, eyewitness Pvt. Latisha Ellis said.

Howell punched Johnson multiple times during the initiation and hosted a July 4, 2005, cookout in which a cover story was concocted, Ellis testified Monday.

Defense attorney Capt. Jeffrey Fox acknowledged that Howell was close with some of those involved in the case but those were relationships forged when Kaiserslautern’s 66th Transportation Company was deployed to Iraq in 2004.

“The government is trying to confuse you with guilty by association, which they can prove, and guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which they can’t prove,” Fox said.

Ellis testified using many of the alleged gangsters’ nicknames such as “Hurt,” “Peewee” and “Zay.” When asked by defense attorney Capt. Joe Venghaus what they called Howell, Ellis said Howell was called by his last name.

Venghaus questioned Ellis’ credibility, noting that she has been convicted of making a false official statement to investigators in the case. Venghaus pointed out that not until February when she made a deal with the government did Ellis reveal to prosecutors what she was now saying in court.

Ellis testified she lied when first talking to investigators in August 2005 because she was scared of Rico Williams, a former Ramstein Air Base airman and the self-proclaimed leader of the Gangster Disciples in Kaiserslautern.

Also on Monday, autopsy photos of Johnson were displayed that showed abrasions and bruises on his back, flank and arms. Col. Kathleen Ingwersen, who performed Johnson’s autopsy, said he died of multiple blunt force injuries.

“If he would not have received these injuries, he would not have died at that time,” she said.

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