KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Like many of her fellow Americans, Stephanie Cockrell will set off fireworks tonight.
But in addition to celebrating July Fourth, Cockrell will remember the life of her late son — Sgt. Juwan L. Johnson, 25. The mother and son set off fireworks together on July 4, 2004, while Johnson was home in Baltimore on leave from Iraq. On July 4, 2005, Johnson was found dead in his Kaiserslautern barracks.
“It’s two years later, and there’s still no justice,” Cockrell said in a telephone interview this week.
The medical examiner who performed Johnson’s autopsy ruled the death a homicide from multiple blunt force injuries. Johnson died from wounds allegedly suffered during a gang initiation ceremony near Kaiserslautern. A soldier for six years, Johnson was deployed to Iraq with Kaiserslautern’s 66th Transportation Company, returning in early 2005.
While no one has been convicted, several soldiers have faced or will face legal proceedings, including three who will stand before courts-martial this summer.
In a March 2006 letter, Army officials informed Cockrell that eight military servicemembers were identified as suspects in Johnson’s murder.
“This is unreal,” wrote Cheryl Williams, Juwan Johnson’s great aunt. “Nothing is being resolved. There’s no closure for us, and who cares? Juwan was just another person killed. I hope his death means nobody will go through what Juwan went through.”
Courts-martial are scheduled this summer for three soldiers, all charged with involuntary manslaughter and other crimes related to Johnson’s death.
Pvt. Terrence A. Norman faces court-martial on July 16 in Kaiserslautern, and Sgt. Rodney H. Howell’s court-martial is scheduled for the following week in Mannheim. Staff Sgt. Alre Hudson is scheduled for court-martial on Aug. 21 in Kaiserslautern.
No one else has been charged in relation to Johnson’s death, according to the 21st Theater Support Command public affairs office.
Initially, two soldiers faced murder charges in Johnson’s death. In October 2006, Spc. Bobby Morrissette was charged with murder, becoming the first soldier charged in the case. Earlier this year when Morrissette was ordered to stand court-martial, he faced the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. Morrissette’s involuntary manslaughter charge and other related charges were dismissed last month after evidence arose that prosecutors and investigators did not follow proper procedure during a December 2005 interview of Morrissette.
Pvt. Latisha Ellis was also charged with murder. After making a deal to testify for the prosecution as an eyewitness to the beating, Ellis’ most serious charges were dropped. At a summary court-martial, Ellis pleaded guilty to making a false official statement. She was reduced to the lowest pay grade and sentenced to 30 days of hard labor without confinement.
While Cockrell sets off her Fourth of July fireworks, she’ll remember her son. Cockrell knows she needs to get to the point where she can forgive, but she’s not there yet, she said.
“You know Juwan’s death happened, but nothing officially has been done to any individual because of it,” she said. “I’m blown back by what happened with Morrissette. I really wonder when does (Juwan’s) spirit rest. What message is the military sending to its soldiers or its potential soldiers?”