Beating witness challenged on her testimony at court-martial
October 3, 2007
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — For the third time since July, an eyewitness to a gang beating linked an accused soldier to the 2005 death of Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.
At a court-martial Tuesday, Pfc. Latisha Ellis testified that Army Staff Sgt. Alre Hudson hit Johnson 20 times during a six-minute initiation ceremony into the Gangster Disciples.
Hudson faces four charges in Johnson’s death, including involuntary manslaughter, and could spend 14 years in jail if convicted of all charges.
Ellis said Hudson was one of nine men who struck Johnson during the “jump-in” ceremony, which took place July 3, 2005, at a pavilion near Hohenecken. Johnson was found dead in his barracks room in Kaiserslautern the following day.
Ellis described the men beating Johnson as “like a pack of wolves on a piece of meat.”
“I was kind of nervous and glad it wasn’t me,” she said.
Ellis is the key witness in the prosecution’s case. Her testimony in previous courts-martial assisted in the conviction of two soldiers in July.
Ellis was initially charged with murder in Johnson’s death but struck a deal with the government. In exchange for her testimony, the 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.
Hudson’s defense attorney, David Court, questioned Ellis’ credibility, zeroing in on the fact that Ellis is a convicted liar. Court began his cross-examination of Ellis by asking her if she’s ever lied. Ellis said “yes.”
Court continued and asked Ellis if, when she lies, does she try to appear as credible as possible.
“I guess you can say that,” Ellis responded.
Ellis maintained that her testimony Tuesday and in previous courts-martial was the truth.
Lawyers did not begin their opening statements until just before 3 p.m. Ellis took the stand shortly after 3 p.m. Ellis, the court-martial’s first witness, was still on the stand as of 4:45 p.m. Tuesday.
In her opening statements, prosecuting attorney Capt. Rebecca DiMuro recounted the story of what happened to Johnson at the jump-in ceremony and how Hudson allegedly said or did nothing to help Johnson or stop the beating.
“What does the accused say?” DiMuro asked. “What does a staff sergeant in the United States Army say? Nothing.”
Court told the jurors to keep their eyes on the ball and to not focus on extraneous testimony.
“The ball is: What does Staff Sergeant Hudson have to do with any of this?” Court said.
In his opening statement, Court said the only evidence that ties Hudson to Johnson’s death is Ellis’ testimony.
Much of Tuesday was spent selecting a jury. The proceeding began around 9 a.m., and the jury was determined around 1:45 p.m. Of the 12 possible panel members, five were eliminated for a variety of reasons after individual questioning.
The seven-member jury that will determine Hudson’s outcome is composed of four officers and three enlisted soldiers. The two lowest-ranking soldiers on the panel are sergeants first class. The court-martial is scheduled to resume Wednesday.