Honored soldier is booted for drugs, other violations
VICENZA, Italy — A soldier who was praised for his gallantry in Afghanistan was sentenced Wednesday to almost a year in prison and a bad-conduct discharge for his illegal behavior, most of which occurred while he wasn’t deployed.
During a general court-martial Wednesday, Spc. Jason D. Layton pleaded guilty to using cocaine and marijuana, disobeying a curfew and being an accessory after the fact.
Col. Jeffrey Nance, the military judge, sentenced Layton to 15 months in prison and gave him a bad-conduct discharge. The sentence was reduced to 12 months because of a pre-trial agreement.
Layton, a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, will spend 20 fewer days in confinement because of pre-trial punishments.
The pre-trial agreement also included the prosecution dropping an additional four charges against Layton relating to an incident in Afghanistan — conspiracy, larceny, assault and housebreaking. Testimony revealed that three other soldiers committed those crimes.
Layton testified he knew the other three were going to break into an Afghan business on base and steal from it, and said he decided against participating. But he admitted he agreed to hide some of the stolen goods for one of the soldiers the next day.
Layton’s actions marred an otherwise stellar deployment with his unit, according to two former platoon leaders who testified on his behalf. He was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with valor for his actions and was credited with killing 13 enemy fighters — more than anyone else in the company.
Capt. Oren Gleich, the lead defense attorney, said in his closing arguments that Layton was involved in more than 150 engagements with enemy forces during the deployment. He saw one friend shot in the neck and another killed by a roadside bomb, and unsuccessfully tried to save the life of an Afghan national killed by an explosion.
In a brief statement during sentencing, Layton said he was proud of his actions downrange and was willing to deploy again.
"I’ll serve my country until I die," he told Nance. "And I ask you to allow me to do so."
But Capt. Autumn Veatch, the lead prosecutor, said although many of Layton’s actions downrange were worthy of praise, Nance was judging "a soldier in front of you who continually chose to not do the right thing."
She said Layton received two Article 15 punishments before the deployment — one for marijuana use and the other for being drunk on duty — and was given another chance. He then decided to try to conceal the crime in Afghanistan and has had numerous violations since returning last summer, she said.
That includes disobeying a curfew set by the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team commander, Col. James Johnson, snorting "four or five lines" of cocaine in his barracks room and smoking marijuana on base. He was one of nine soldiers in the company recently found to have used illegal drugs after a series of urine tests.