European edition, Wednesday, July 25, 2007

MANNHEIM, Germany — Sgt. Rodney Howell was sentenced to six years confinement and a dishonorable discharge Tuesday for his role in the 2005 beating death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

Howell, who faced a possible 19 years behind bars, is the second soldier in as many weeks to be convicted, sentenced to jail time and given a dishonorable discharge for killing Johnson. Last week, Pvt. Terrence Norman was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

An eyewitness testified that nine men beat Johnson for six minutes during a July 2005 Gangster Disciples initiation near Kaiserslautern.

Army Judge Col. Julie Hasdorff determined Howell’s sentence and verdict because Howell opted against a court-martial by jury. Hasdorff found Howell guilty of involuntary manslaughter, violating an Army regulation on hazing, conspiring to violate the Army regulation on hazing and making a false official statement.

Under the hazing charge, Howell was convicted for his own 2004 initiation into the gang, which took place when Kaiserslautern’s 66th Transportation Company was deployed to Tikrit, Iraq.

The judge found Howell not guilty of aggravated assault.

Howell was also sentenced to reduction to private and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

The most serious charge Howell faced was involuntary manslaughter for his role in the July 3, 2005, jump-in initiation of Johnson, who died of multiple blunt force trauma the next day.

Before sentencing, Howell gave a tearful unsworn statement in which he apologized to Johnson’s wife.

Much of the prosecution’s case rested on the testimony of Pvt. Latisha Ellis, who said as a one-time gang recruit she was only a spectator to the beating.

Ellis testified that Howell was one of the current or former servicemembers who beat Johnson during the initiation ritual near Kaiserslautern.

“It is time for Sergeant Rodney Howell to take responsibility for his actions,” said Capt. Rebecca DiMuro, prosecuting attorney. “Sergeant Howell and his fellow Gangster Disciples conspired to initiate Sergeant Johnson in a jump-in/beat-in ceremony.”

With Ellis being the only source linking Howell and Johnson’s death, the details of her testimony were of vital importance, defense attorney Capt. Joe Venghaus said.

At the very least, Ellis was exaggerating when she testified Johnson was punched 220 times and kicked 12 times during the beating, Venghaus said.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense when we see the pictures of Sergeant Johnson,” Venghaus said.

Dr. David Posey, an expert in forensic pathology, testified for the defense that Ellis’ testimony of what happened is not consistent with injuries he saw in Johnson’s autopsy photos.

“I would have expected to see a lot more injuries to the head and neck,” said Posey, a retired Army colonel.

Ellis testified that Johnson was kicked in the chest repeatedly by the self-proclaimed gang leader, Rico Williams. Photos of Johnson’s chest and abdomen did not show significant damage.

“If [Johnson] was kicked in the chest, I’d expect to see some injuries there,” Posey said.

Under questioning from DiMuro, Posey said he saw injuries that would indicate Johnson was kicked in his left flank.

As for Ellis, DiMuro said when a crime is committed in hell there are no angels as witnesses.

“[Ellis] is no angel, but that does not mean what she told us is not true,” DiMuro said.

Next month, Staff Sgt. Alre Hudson is scheduled to stand court-martial for playing a part in killing Johnson.

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