Article 32 hearing starts for major accused of killing wife
December 17, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A U.S. Army major is “guilty of nothing more than manslaughter” after a spat gone bad with his wife in an Itaewon apartment in August, one of his defense attorneys argued Monday.
But evidence shows Maj. Richard Hart’s wife, Patricia Ann Hart, was intentionally bludgeoned and strangled in a premeditated attack that killed her, said Capt. Demanis J. Johanek, one of two government prosecutors.
The death was “at most an accident,” countered Capt. James Culp of the defense team.
The statements were made Monday in the first day of an Article 32 hearing. During the hearing, a senior officer determines what charges, if any, will be recommended to 8th Army commander Lt. Gen. Charles Campbell, the convening authority for a possible court-martial.
Hart is charged with murder, two counts of assault, two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of adultery.
South Korean police arrested Hart on Aug. 12 after observing him dumping his wife’s naked body, wrapped in plastic and duct tape, from the Yongjong Bridge near Incheon International Airport. Prosecutors allege Hart dumped the body off of the bridge a few days after the two fought.
Testimony Monday painted the Harts’ family life as stressed and violent, marked by frequent physical confrontations. Hart’s 19-year-old daughter told the court by telephone from her Lakewood, Wash., home that her father punched her, breaking her nose after a confrontation over a cell phone two months after she had plastic surgery.
“He just said he was sorry and he didn’t mean to,” said Allison Hart, who described herself as under five feet tall and weighing less than 110 pounds. Patricia Ann Hart was only slightly bigger, Allison said, but that did not stop her from initiating some of the physical confrontations with her much larger husband.
“It wasn’t all his fault,” Allison testified.
The daughter said the three family members physically fought each other, sometimes fueled by drinking and minor disagreements over television programs. The relationship between her father and mother became stressed after they found photos of a Korean woman with whom Hart was having an affair, the daughter testified.
Testimony showed the affair began in Hart’s previous South Korea tour of duty in 2000. The Korean woman told investigators she continued to see Hart after he came back to South Korea in June, at one time mistakenly believing he had divorced his wife.
Patricia Ann Hart had a history of anxiety attacks and went to a mental hospital for a week after learning of the affair, but never wanted to divorce her husband, Allison Hart said. Although her father was on an unaccompanied tour to South Korea, her mother moved here against her wishes, leaving Allison with few items, a largely empty apartment and $100, the daughter said.
“She left in a taxi,” Allison testified. “That was the last time I saw her.”
Hart had a “volatile” relationship with his wife, but the officer was known to walk away from confrontation, Culp said.
Culp repeatedly noted the defense team has not yet been given the autopsy report, crime scene photos or other pieces of evidence he said were crucial to questioning witnesses.
The prosecution team gave the defense a large stack of photocopied material well into the hearing. Culp also complained that the Criminal Investigation Command — known as CID — had not allowed him access to case material prior to the hearing. The defense team, accompanied by Hart, was to view physical case evidence Tuesday, the court ruled.
After his arrest, Hart waived his rights and gave a verbal statement to a CID agent at a Korean police station, Special Agent Rocky Burson testified Monday. Hart admitted he hit his wife during an argument in his apartment and felt her death was “his fault,” Burson said.
But when questioned by Lt. Col. Andrew Morrow, the investigating officer presiding over the Article 32 hearing, Burson said he could not say whether the death appeared premeditated.
“We have not determined the cause or manner of death at this point,” he said, noting later that pieces of evidence still are being processed in the United States by CID. Burson was testifying on behalf of two other CID agents who participated in the questioning of Hart after his arrest. Neither agent was available to appear at the hearing this week, the prosecution said.
Patricia Ann Hart’s body showed signs that some kind of cord might have been wrapped around her neck before her death, Burson said. Morrow excluded two evidence photos showing Hart’s body from spectators in the gallery.
After Hart was arrested, CID agents found him carrying a Venetian-blind like cord in his pocket, Burson said. In a monitored jailhouse phone call, Hart told his daughter that he took the cord from the South Korean police station after his arrest to “hang myself with,” Culp said.
Hart was shackled throughout the hearing and guided by two guards when he left the courtroom. Four other MPs were stationed at various exits around the courtroom.
Two other witnesses testified Monday. One military policeman, formerly stationed at Fort Lewis when the Harts lived there, recounted a domestic violence call which ended with Patricia in the hospital and Richard Hart at the MP station.
Another witness, reached by telephone at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., told of the jailhouse monitoring of phone calls and letters. Prosecutors allege Hart asked his daughter to destroy letters he had sent her from the Camp Humphreys confinement facility.
During the hearing, Hart took notes and frequently conferred with his counsel. One emotional moment came when his daughter recounted the incident when he broke her nose.
Allison Hart asked if she could speak with her father during her testimony, later telling him “Bye, Dad,” before hanging up.
Hart bowed his head slightly, then wordlessly waved toward the speakerphone.
Joseph Giordono contributed to this story.