Marine faces court-martial for Romanian’s death
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Marine accused of killing a Romanian rock star during an auto accident last December is headed to a general court-martial, where he will face four charges: negligent homicide, adultery, obstructing justice and making false statements.
Staff Sgt. Christopher VanGoethem was presented with the charges at the direction of Col. Glen Sochtleben, commander of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Lejeune, N.C., according to 4th MEB spokesman, Maj. Cliff Gilmore.
VanGoethem, 32, is a former commander of the Marine security detachment at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.
In December 2004, VanGoethem was involved in an early morning traffic accident in Bucharest with a taxi ferrying 50-year-old Teofil Peter, veteran producer and bassist for the rock band Compact.
Peter, who has been described as “the Romanian equivalent of Bono,” because he was heavily involved in activist issues, suffered major head wounds and died on the scene.
The resulting outrage prompted the Romanian government to ask President Bush to authorize VanGoethem’s extradition to face a local court.
Bush refused, and VanGoethem was sent to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., where he faced an Article 32 hearing July 25-26. The hearing is the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation.
VanGoethem, who is married, was accused of 10 violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including committing adultery with the daughter of an American Embassy official in Bucharest; asking her to lie to cover up the affair; drunk and disorderly conduct resulting from a second, earlier car accident and storing pornography on a government computer.
The investigating officer for the case, Marine Lt. Col. Stewart Couch, forwarded his recommendations to Sochtleben, who decided to drop the charges related to the earlier car accident and pornography, but move the homicide, adultery, lying, and obstruction to a general court-martial proceeding.
The UCMJ mandates maximum jail times for the four charges the Marine will face, but each one includes maximum punishments of reduction to the rank to private (E-1), a dishonorable discharge, and loss of all pay and allowances, Gilmore said.
Punishments are cumulative, so the longest time VanGoethem could serve if convicted on all four charges is 14 years in military detention, Gilmore said.
During the court-martial, VanGoethem will face a judge chosen at random from the Marines’ Judge Advocate, or JAG, corps, and a “court-martial board,” similar to a jury, of enlisted Marines and officers selected from a pool by both the defense and prosecution for the case.
VanGoethem also has the option of requesting trial by judge only, Gilmore said.
The date and location for the general court-martial have not been confirmed, “but we intend to move forward as quickly as possible while ensuring a just and fair process for Staff Sgt. VanGoethem,” Gilmore said.
Until the trial begins, VanGoethem remains on duty at Quantico’s Marine Security Guard Battalion.
He is not restricted in any way and is not considered a flight risk, Gilmore said.
VanGoethem has decided to retain his chief defender, Marine Maj. Phillip Stackhouse, Gilmore said. VanGoethem also has the right to retain a civilian attorney at his own expense.