Okinawa dental technician sentenced to 60 years for murder of fellow sailor
By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 24, 2005
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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Seaman Robert L. Person Jr., 19, stood limply in a courtroom Wednesday as a military judge sentenced him to the rest of his life in prison without parole for the murder of a fellow sailor.
Minutes later, he showed little sign of relief as the same judge read the details of a pretrial agreement that reduced the sentence to 60 years. He also was given a dishonorable discharge.
Person, a sailor assigned to the Camp Hansen Dental Clinic, had pleaded guilty in order to escape the possibility of being sentenced to death for the premeditated murder of Seaman Adam J. Palecco, 21.
He also waived his right to a preliminary hearing and agreed to not seek clemency for a period of 20 years.
Person, of Turrell, Ark., was the first of three Navy dental technicians to be court-martialed for the brutal slaying of Palecco on Camp Hansen the night of Feb. 2. According to testimony, Person, Seaman Audley G. Evans II and Seaman Tiffany Marie Brooks killed Palecco to prevent him from giving military officials information concerning their part in a shoplifting ring that preyed on base exchanges on Okinawa.
Brooks is scheduled to be court-martialed Sunday on Camp Foster. She also waived her right to a preliminary hearing and is expected to plead guilty. No court date has been set for Evans or a fourth defendant, Marine Lance Cpl. Jesika Jenkins, who also is charged with murder because she allegedly knew of the plot to kill Palecco and provided Evans with a false alibi.
Person pleaded guilty to charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder, impeding an investigation by killing a witness and larceny.
According to trial testimony, which included videos of the defendants re-enacting the crime, Person lured Palecco, of Hackettstown, N.J., to a path behind the dental clinic at 8:15 p.m., where they met Evans and Brooks. Person told investigators that Evans grabbed Palecco from behind and slit his throat.
The three told investigators they each took part in stabbing Palecco. Person and Evans then dragged his body into a drainage tunnel, according to testimony.
At a preliminary hearing for Jenkins, an investigator testified that Palecco’s body was discovered two days later by a Marine who was taking a shortcut home from the movies on a moonless night and decided to run through the tunnel to scare herself.
Throughout Person’s two-day trial, his parents sat on a bench behind him, watching him calmly re-enact the crime in a video that showed how he stabbed Palecco in the chest and kidneys and then squatted next to his head to watch the life drain from his body.
“Robert was a quiet person,” his father, a mechanic and minister said. “I just feel like he got caught up with the wrong crowd.”
He looked at Palecco’s father, who adopted the Korean orphan when he was 8 years old, and other family members sitting in the front row.
“This is hurtful, really painful,” he said. “My heart goes out to the whole family. My prayers go out to the family, too.”
In an unsworn statement, Person stood and tearfully apologized to the Paleccos.
“I know what I did was wrong and you probably hate me,” he sobbed. “I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me … I’d give my life to change it.”
Marine Capt. Tom Jasper, Person’s lawyer, argued that his client was a “very timid, nerdy kid” influenced by more aggressive personalities.
“He’s not the mastermind,” he said. “Don’t throw away this 19-year-old kid for the events that happened over two days. Give him some incentive someday to earn the ability to someday go out and make something of his life.”
He said Person would be haunted by his actions for the rest of his life. A defense psychiatrist testified that Person has become psychotic and has had hallucinations of Palecco talking to him and damning him to hell.
Marine Capt. Keith Parrella, chief prosecutor in the case, said Person was not just a follower.
“He came up with the idea of how to get Palecco to the scene of the crime, how to lure him from his room,” Parrella said. “He walked the victim to his death.”
He said Person taunted Palecco as he lay dying, telling him: “This is what you get for being a snitch.”