Most charges dropped against soldier accused of gang initiation death
April 20, 2007
MANNHEIM, Germany — Most charges leveled against a soldier accused in the alleged gang initiation death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson in 2005 have been dismissed.
Spc. Bobby Morrissette faced more than a half dozen of charges including involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, hazing and belonging to a gang.
These four charges, as well as a charge that Morrissette made a false official statement, were dismissed Thursday. The government now has 72 hours to appeal the decision, according to a U.S. Army Europe spokesman.
The reason for the dismissal, said Maj. Jeremy Robinson, Morrissette’s lead defense attorney, was that prosecutors weren’t able to show that statements Morrissette made after being granted testimonial immunity weren’t being used against him.
Morrissette and another soldier were given testimonial immunity in December 2005. That meant that any truthful statement Morrissette gave could not be used against him if charges were later leveled against him.
Both Morrissette and the other soldier, Pvt. Florentino Charris, were interviewed more than once by Army criminal investigators after they were given immunity, and the same investigator interviewed both men.
Robinson argued that the trial attorneys and criminal investigators might have used the soldiers’ testimonies to glean additional information by turning them against each other.
But that isn’t allowed, he said. When a soldier is given testimonial immunity, the government is supposed to create safeguards to prevent such cross-contamination, Robinson argued.
“In this case, the government didn’t do any of that,” Robinson said. He contends that Army lawyers working for the prosecution and Army criminal investigators were, as a group, exchanging information about the testimonies given by the two soldiers.
Robinson argued that the government’s case against Morrissette, who was thought to have been a member of the Gangster Disciples, could have included information that came as a result of statements Morrissette made while he had immunity. The Uniformed Code of Military Justice won’t allow statements made under immunity to be used either directly or indirectly against a person later accused of a crime.
Morrissette is still charged with indecent acts, indecent language and two violations of a no-contact order, but these charges carry far lighter penalties than the dismissed charges. Robinson said altogether the charges could have carried a sentence of up to 40 years. The remaining charges carry fewer than 10, he said.
“All the offenses around Sergeant Johnson’s death are no longer against Specialist Morrissette,” Robinson said.
The government, however, can appeal to have the charges reinstated.
Prosecutors are studying the judge’s ruling, according to Bruce Anderson, an Army spokesman. The government has two basic alternatives, he wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes: proceed with the remaining charges or appeal the judge’s ruling to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
If that court rules in favor of the government, the charges might be brought to trial, Anderson wrote.
Anderson also said that the ruling does not affect the charges pending against three others charged in the death:
Staff Sgt. Alre L. Hudson, 41, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 21st Theater Support Command, faces four charges in relation to Johnson’s death: involuntary manslaughter, hazing, aggravated assault and conspiracy to violate Army policy on hazing.
Pfc. Terrence A. Norman, 22, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 29th Support Group, faces six charges: involuntary manslaughter, hazing, obstructing justice, aggravated assault, conspiracy to violate Army policy on hazing and making a false official statement.
Sgt. Rodney H. Howell, 30, also of HHC, 29th Support Group, is confronted with five charges: involuntary manslaughter, hazing, aggravated assault, conspiracy to violate Army policy on hazing and making a false official statement.