European edition, Wednesday, July 18, 2007

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Pvt. Terrence Norman punched Sgt. Juwan Johnson more than 20 times in the face, back and chest July 3, 2005, during a gang-initiation ceremony near Kaiserslautern, an eyewitness testified in a court-martial Tuesday.

Norman also held up Johnson when he could no longer stand during the six-minute “jumping in” ceremony so others could strike Johnson, said Pvt. Latisha Ellis, an eyewitness to the beating. Johnson died of multiple blunt force injuries the next day.

Maj. Sean Wilson, Norman’s lead defense attorney, questioned the credibility of Ellis, who already pleaded guilty to lying to investigators.

Norman faces six charges in Johnson’s death, including involuntary manslaughter.

Ellis testified that Norman and eight other men beat Johnson during an initiation into the Gangster Disciples.

Norman is the first of three soldiers to stand trial this summer in relation to Johnson’s death.

A panel of two officers and four enlisted soldiers will determine Norman’s fate. If convicted on all charges, Norman could spend a maximum of 31½ years in confinement.

Tuesday marked the second day of the court-martial, which is expected to last through Friday.

Attorneys for both sides gave opening statements in the late morning, with Ellis — the first witness — taking the stand shortly after 1 p.m.

Nearly three hours later, she was still on the witness stand.

Norman hit Johnson “as hard as he could” during the initiation ceremony, Ellis said. After the beating, Norman helped Johnson to Johnson’s car and drove the white BMW away from the pavilion in Hohenecken, where the jumping in took place, Ellis testified.

Ellis, who contends she was a spectator and not a participant in Johnson’s beating, is the prosecution’s key witness.

Ellis was once charged with Johnson’s murder, but she made a deal with prosecutors.

In exchange for her testimony, a murder charge against Ellis was dismissed, but she pleaded guilty to making a false official statement for lying when first questioned by investigators in August 2005.

Because Ellis lied under oath in a sworn statement, Wilson questioned the veracity of her recollection of what happened on the evening of July 3, 2005.

“It’s a complete lie,” said Wilson during his opening statement. “It’s a complete fabrication.”

Ellis testified that seven men hit Johnson more than 20 times each, with two of them hitting Johnson more than 40 times.

Johnson did not have swelling, bruising or bleeding on his face after the beating, Ellis said.

Wilson classified the account as an “incredible story” that Johnson could be hit more than 200 times on the face and upper torso and not be bloodied, swollen or bruised.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Capt. Jocelyn Stewart said Ellis’ eyewitness account is exactly what happened that night.

Johnson’s jumping in ceremony was part of a systematic plan by the Gangster Disciples to bolster their numbers in Kaiserslautern, Stewart said.

“This was not a random act of violence,” Stewart said. “Sergeant Johnson was beaten that night because of a systematic plan.”

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