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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A soldier killed in an alleged gang initiation beating was excited and looked forward to participating in the “jumping in” ceremony, an admitted gang member testified Friday.

Pvt. Florentino Charris said he talked to Sgt. Juwan Johnson before the 25-year-old’s death on July 4, 2005, and that the Kaiserslautern-based soldier wanted to join the Gangster Disciples.

Charris’ testimony came during an Article 32 investigation for Spc. Bobby Morrissette, who is charged with murdering Johnson during a rite of passage into the group.

The hearing, which is the military’s equivalent to a grand jury proceeding, concluded Dec. 6. Charris, a member of the 191st Ordnance Battalion, did not testify because he had gone absent without leave, according to testimony during last week’s portion of the hearing.

But Morrissette’s defense attorney, Maj. Jeremy Robinson, requested that the hearing reconvene at Kleber Kaserne on Friday after Charris became “available.” The Army would not give details as to how he became available for the hearing.

During Friday’s questioning, Charris spoke softly, and his answers were barely audible from the back of the courtroom. He acknowledged that he was scared to answer questions about the case because he had received threats over the telephone from people he did not know who told him, “keep your mouth shut.”

He testified that he and another soldier had joined the gang in a similar ritual but he wasn’t seriously injured and only felt sore from the hits he took to the torso.

Charris said he did not attend Johnson’s initiation on July 3 because he had to work, but a pair of soldiers had dropped the sergeant off right outside his barracks. One said, “He’s in.”

Johnson was so beat up, Charris testified, that he and another soldier had to carry him up to Johnson’s room. Charris said he was ordered to check on Johnson, while the other soldiers went to the club.

Johnson complained that his back hurt, but he wasn’t bleeding and he had no visible bruises, Charris said.

He helped Johnson take a shower to clean up and later left to do some laundry. Charris testified that Johnson spoke to his wife on the telephone and promised to call her back. When Charris woke up later in the morning, he testified, he went to check on Johnson and found him not breathing with his back against the wall.

He called for an ambulance, but it was too late.

A medical examiner who testified last week said Johnson, who was assigned to the 66th Transportation Company at the time of his death, died of multiple blunt force injures.

Army investigators had interviewed Charris more than six times, but he admitted on Friday that he didn’t tell them the truth. He said he did not know if Morrissette was at the initiation ceremony because he wasn’t there.

Morrissette also is charged with violating Army regulations pertaining to gang activity, recruitment into an extremist organization and having indecent acts with a 14-year-old girl.

Several witnesses who have testified during the Article 32 have sought protective assistance from the Army.

Lt. Col. Elizabeth Hibner, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army in Europe, would not confirm whether Charris is being given protection from the military.


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