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(Defense Department file photo)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A military jury this week acquitted a former Army martial arts champion from Baumholder of murder in the death of a German woman whose heart failed after she was struck during an early morning altercation at a bar.

Sgt. Prince J. Brown, however, was found guilty of assault for hitting the woman’s friend in the face with a beer bottle during the same incident. On that charge he was sentenced Wednesday to 180 days in jail, reduction in rank to E-2 and a bad-conduct discharge.

After about a week of testimony, the jury of four enlisted members and four officers took less than three hours to find Brown, 31, not guilty of unpremeditated murder, a charge that carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment with or without eligibility for parole.

The government’s murder case against Brown hinged on testimony from nearly a half-dozen American and German medical experts.

The victim was found to have a heart problem that led to her death. The question before the jury was whether Brown was culpable for causing her heart to fail when it did.

Lisa Schnur, 28, had recently graduated from Kaiserslautern University with an engineering degree. She collapsed and died on Dec. 26, 2014, shortly after the altercation, in which witnesses said Brown punched her in the side of the face at Blue Billard-Cafe in Baumholder.

German prosecutors decided not to press charges after German medical examiners, who performed the autopsy, determined Schnur’s sudden death was due to an undetected heart defect.

Schnur suffered an aortic rupture. Medical experts for the government, who reviewed the autopsy report, said they believed the blow to the head — possibly in combination with the fear of being punched — caused such an increase in Schnur’s heart rate and blood pressure that it triggered the rupture.

“When you punch somebody in the head like that, you take your victim as they are,” said prosecutor Maj. Scott McDonald. “She did not die until he punched her in the head.”

The defense, however, argued that any number of events at the bar could have been the trigger, from Schnur’s angry confrontation with Brown and his friend to her jumping up and chasing him out of the bar.

“Ms. Schnur was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off,” said Capt. Chris Elder for the defense.

Brown, a noncommissioned officer with the 240th Quartermaster Support Company at Baumholder, was at Blue’s drinking with some of his junior soldiers, one of whom was interested in Schnur, according to court testimony. Schnur and her friend, Lena Walther, talked with Brown and the soldier, but soon became annoyed with the soldiers.

The two women twice tried to get away from the soldiers, moving to different areas of the bar. When they sat down at a bench against a wall, Schnur became annoyed because the soldiers followed them. Then, Brown’s friend accidentally spilled his beer on one of the women, according to court testimony. Schnur then threw beer at Brown, and he poured beer on her, witnesses said.

Prosecutors said Brown, who is Samoan, became angry and felt disrespected when Schnur yelled at him — with expletives — “to get the hell away from us” and “go back to your island.”

Walther, a hairdresser from Baumholder, testified she laughed at this. “When I looked up, I had something in my face. It was a bottle. It was black before my eyes for a few seconds then I experienced the blood.” Another soldier at the bar said the one with the build of an ultimate fighting champion threw the bottle at Walther.

The blow broke her nose, Walther said. “It was the biggest shock of my life.”

The bottle to the face was the basis for the assault charge against Brown.

After Walther was hit in the face with the beer bottle, Schnur chased Brown out of the bar and started hitting him, while Brown’s friends tried to restrain him, witnesses said. The defense said Brown, who is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 240 pounds, said the sergeant acted in self-defense when he fought back. Prosecutors dismissed this, pointing out that Schnur was half his size.

Brown, who is married with three children, won a military combatives tournament at Kleber Kaserne in 2013. He was a high school wrestling champion in Hawaii.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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