GIs who tore off rapist’s chevrons could be punished
August 17, 2005
PYONGTAEK, South Korea — A U.S. military judge in South Korea will hold a hearing next month into an incident in which soldiers stripped rank chevrons, ribbons and other items from a soldier who’d just been sentenced on a rape conviction, officials said Monday.
The incident occurred Aug. 4 at the Camp Humphreys courtroom just minutes after the judge sentenced Pvt. Mikel A. Reynolds, 19, to six years in prison, a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and reduction to the lowest military pay grade, E-1.
Under a plea agreement however, Reynolds, of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, cannot be confined for more than five years.
He had pleaded guilty to raping a female soldier on May 1 in a barracks at Suwon Air Base.
Reynolds was an E-2 before his conviction by general court-martial.
He was assigned to the brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
He has since been confined at the 8th U.S. Army Confinement Facility at Camp Humphreys.
The judge, Army Col. Patrick J. Parrish, chief judge for the 6th Judicial Circuit in Seoul, had pronounced the sentence, closed the court and left the courtroom when the incident began some minutes later.
After sentencing, Reynolds was led to the rear of the courtroom and a team of soldiers put him in handcuffs and leg irons — a common procedure before escorting defendants to jail.
But as he stood there, they also began methodically stripping his Class A green uniform jacket of everything but his buttons and name tag.
Among those still in the courtroom were the rape victim, who sat in a chair near the rear of the room, her right fist still clutching a tissue.
A sergeant used a knife to saw through the threads that held a single yellow rank chevron to each of Reynolds’ sleeves.
Once a few stitches were severed, the sergeant grasped the chevrons with his fingers and tore them off.
During the several minutes it took to strip the uniform coat of the chevrons, ribbons, unit patch and other items, Reynolds stood with his hands cuffed in front of him, looking calm and offering no resistance or comment.
Tracy Lynn Reynolds-Spafford, Reynolds’ sister, forwarded to Stars and Stripes an e-mail in which military defense lawyers told the family they have requested a post-trial hearing “where it will be argued that the actions of the Government rose to a level of illegal post trial punishment” and that the defense will accordingly ask a “substantial reduction” in Reynolds’ sentence.
“I would like to see those who did wrong punished,” Reynolds-Spafford, 23, said Monday night from Georgia.
“ … And I would like to know who gave the escorts the idea of doing that … whether someone told them to do that or if they acted on their own.”
Reynolds’ defense lawyer Capt. Corey Marks said he was not at liberty to comment on the matter when contacted Monday.
Eighth Army spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Budzyna said prosecutors declined to be interviewed about the upcoming hearing.
But, Budzyna said, U.S. military law “balances the Army’s need to instill good order and discipline as well as protect the rights of soldiers … The judge obviously wants to consider the actions that were taken following the previous” court proceedings, “ … and these procedures allow him to do just that.”
Over the top? An expert weighs in
Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said that the defense attorneys “might get some minor credit” against Pvt. Mikel Reynolds’ sentence.
“But more to the point, someone might get punished for this,” Fidell said.
“That’s out of the 19th century,” Fidell said. “There was a time when military justice was a lot more ritualistic. They used to march guys out with a sword in his back, and have everyone there face away from him — that sort of thing.
“There is one instance of a soldier being made to turn his coat inside out” as punishment, he said.
“If it’s a custom or practice of the detention facility, so be it, but it has no place in the courtroom,” he said. “It defiles the courtroom. As a general rule, no one in the military should be made the object of humiliation.”
Stripes editor Pat Dickson contributed to this report.