Marine gets 15 years for Okinawa rape, says 50-cent beer was partly to blame
June 22, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Marine was sentenced to 15 years in prison and handed a dishonorable discharge Monday after pleading guilty to charges of rape, sodomy and several lesser offenses.
Under a pre-trial agreement, however, 22-year-old Pvt. Justin Echak might serve just four years of the sentence. The remainder will be suspended as long as he remains out of trouble for a year after being released.
Echak, a native of Wasilla, Alaska, spent most of the daylong court-martial slouched in his chair, his head hung low as he listened to the proceedings in Keystone Judicial Circuit Court.
He pleaded guilty to entering the barracks rooms of two fellow Marines assigned to the 7th Communication Battalion on Camp Hansen on Feb. 10 and sexually assaulting them.
One woman was able to resist him, wrestling for more than 30 minutes before he left her room. He then wandered into the room of another Marine who was sleeping and raped and sodomized her, according to testimony.
He also pleaded guilty to charges of burglary, committing three indecent assaults and making two false official statements.
During questioning by the military judge, Lt. Col. D.J. Daugherty, Echak said he was drunk during the incidents and remembers little of what occurred. He said he had downed 10 to 15 beers during 50-cent beer night at the enlisted club.
Navy Lt. Andrew Wilkes, his defense attorney, said Echak gave up his right to use voluntary intoxication as a defense.
“Although he can’t remember the facts and circumstances, he does not wish to re-victimize the victims in this case,” Wilkes said. He said Echak had been through a lengthy preliminary hearing and believed he was guilty of all the charges.
Both women testified during the sentencing portion of Monday’s court-martial. While the 21-year-old victim of the rape and sodomy testified, Echak never looked up from staring at the defense table. The woman said she joined the Marines to make a better life for her and her 2-year-old son. She said she was proud to be a Marine — until the early morning hours of Feb. 10, when Echak slipped into her room.
She now relives the attack every night, she testified. “It’s hard to sleep through the night,” she said. “I wake up in a panic and have nightmares.”
She said the incident destroyed her bond with the Marine Corps and that she would get out once her contract expires.
She testified that Echak, like most of the other Marines in her company, was a friend. They all had felt a close, family bond, she said, and left their doors unlocked.
She said Echak had wandered into her room once before, on the morning of Feb. 3, waking her and fondling her. She said she did not report the incident because she knew Echak was drunk and she didn’t want to get him into trouble.
Wilkes argued that junior Marines on Okinawa are set up for failure. During their two-year unaccompanied tours, most of them are not allowed cars and remain on Cinderella liberty — having to be in their barracks at midnight. The highlight of their weeks is the 50-cent beer nights every Wednesday at the enlisted club, he said.
“There is some responsibility the Marine Corps shares for setting up such a situation at Camp Hansen,” he said. “When you have 50-cent draft nights at The Palms and the young Marines are slamming down 50-cent Budweisers as fast they can, what do you expect?”
Marine Capt. Melanie Mann, the lead prosecutor, didn’t buy the argument. She called Echak a predator who misused the trust every Marine develops for each other.
“He violated [the victim] in the worst way a woman can be violated,” she said. “He needs to be punished for the sake of punishment, for the victims and the impact this will have on them for the rest of their lives.”
She asked for a sentence of 10 to 15 years in prison.
Also testifying during the court-martial was Echak’s mother, via telephone from Alaska. She said her son never had been in trouble before and there was a history of alcoholism in the family.
The call brought tears to Echak’s eyes. He continued to sob as he read an unsworn statement in which he apologized to the victims, his family and the Marine Corps. He placed part of the blame on the “lack of alternatives to drinking alcohol” on Camp Hansen.
“Although, I should have not let alcohol influence my actions,” he added.