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SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — A U.S. Air Force staff sergeant who went on a bizarre, drunken rampage in Trier on New Year’s Day 2006 has been sentenced to 28 months in prison.

A military jury on Friday also sentenced Staff Sgt. John V. Nichols to a bad-conduct discharge, reduction to the lowest pay grade and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. After a weeklong court-martial, the seven-officer panel found him guilty of six counts of assault, one count of house breaking and a single count of resisting arrest. He had faced a maximum prison sentence of 11 ½ years.

Defense lawyers for Nichols, who is assigned to the 702nd Munitions Support Squadron at Buechel Air Base, had argued that the airman was not guilty because he had a “manic episode.” But Maj. Kyle Green, who prosecuted the case, blamed the “drunken rage” on beer and the 14 Jack-and-Cokes that Nichols drank.

German police officers testified during the trial that Nichols’ behavior that day was unlike anything they had ever seen.

After attacking two couples in the street and barging into a German widow’s home and attacking her son, police said the airman growled, barked like a dog and foamed at the mouth as they arrested him.

Senior Airman Nicholas Pelletier testified that he and Nichols had planned to go to the city to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Both got so drunk that they agreed to sleep in Nichols’ car instead of taking the 90-minute drive back to Buechel. When they left the Irish pub, they got lost trying to find the car.

That is when Nichols started acting oddly, Pelletier said, trying to use his key on other cars that weren’t even the same color. Pelletier ditched his friend after he tried to convince him they were nowhere near the car.

Sometime after they parted, Nichols went on his rampage.

A teenage couple on their way home from a party offered to help Nichols as he leaned against a car. But when they got closer, Nichols reached for the 16-year-old boy’s neck and squeezed. The 15-year-old girl testified that she tried to push Nichols off of her boyfriend. But after she did, Nichols punched her in the face with his fist and then slugged her again holding his keys. He hit her so hard it bent one of the keys, according to court testimony.

The couple got away, but Nichols terrorized another German couple on their way home. As the couple walked by Nichols, he began following them. Without any provocation, he began punching the man in the face repeatedly and then kicking him in the shins, according to testimony.

The couple escaped, but Nichols continued.

He approached a home and began knocking on the door of a widow’s home. When the woman’s son opened the door, Nichols tried to push his way inside, according to testimony. When he couldn’t get through the door, he went around the back and tried to enter through the window. After police arrived at the home, Nichols ran into the house and tackled the widow’s son. Both fell on top of the woman, shattering her shoulder, breaking several ribs and causing bruises.

One officer smacked Nichols in the head with a flashlight in an attempt to subdue him, but the blow barely phased him, police testified. It took five officers to restrain Nichols, handcuff him and carry him outside.

As he sat against a fence, police said Nichols growled, barked like a dog, foamed at the mouth and tried to bite people. Police figured Nichols was on drugs, but lab results showed no signs of narcotics.

“I looked into his eyes and I saw nothing,” police officer Helmut Marmitt testified. “He did not know what he was doing.”

Maj. Stephen Ganter, one of Nichols’ attorneys, highlighted the police officers’ testimony and the dog barking as proof that alcohol wasn’t the reason for Nichols’ violent behavior.

“There was something else going on,” Ganter said in his closing arguments.

But Green pointed out that Nichols had no previous mental problems and noted to the jury that as soon as Nichols sobered up, the unusual and violent behavior ended.

“He’s a normal guy until he gets that much alcohol on board,” Green said.


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