A 2006 handout offering a $25,000 reward for information about the death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

A 2006 handout offering a $25,000 reward for information about the death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson. ()

ARLINGTON, Va. — A former airman accused of kicking and beating to death an Army sergeant as part of a gang initiation near U.S. military bases in Germany five years ago is being tried for murder this month in a Washington federal court.

Rico Williams, a former senior airman who had been based at Ramstein Air Base, is charged with second-degree murder for the death of 25-year-old Sgt. Juwan Johnson on July 3, 2005. Prosecutors allege that as the ringleader of the Kaiserslautern branch of the Gangster Disciples, Williams led a group of gang members in a six-minute jumping-in ceremony that killed Johnson.

Johnson, who had agreed to the beating in his effort to join the gang, was found dead in his barracks room the next day from what was deemed multiple blunt-force trauma.

Federal prosecutors began trying their case against Williams on Monday. Williams, who was no longer in the military at the time of Johnson’s death, was indicted on federal charges in February 2009 and subsequently arrested in Chesapeake, Va., where he was living with his active-duty spouse. He is also facing three counts of witness tampering.

Six others involved in the incident have already been tried in military court. Pvt. Terrence Norman was sentenced to the maximum punishment of 12 years’ confinement in 2007 for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and other charges. Later that year, Army Sgt. Rodney Howell was sentenced to six years. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jerome Jones was sentenced in 2009 to two years for aggravated assault, conspiracy, and three other related charges. Airman Nicholas Sims was given eight years after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter. All were dishonorably discharged from the military.

Two other servicemembers were acquitted. Staff Sgt. Alre Hudson was found not guilty on all charges. In his trial, defense lawyers argued that there was no evidence linking Hudson to Johnson’s death or to the gang beyond the statements of eyewitness Pfc. Latisha Ellis, who made a deal with prosecutors in exchange for her testimony.

Army Pvt. Bobby Morrissette was also found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and assault charges. He was convicted of participating in gang initiation rituals, impeding an investigation, willfully disobeying a commissioned officer. He was sentenced to 42 months in jail and a dishonorable discharge.

Williams’ trial is expected to last about three weeks. If he is convicted he faces life in prison.

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