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Okinawa Marine drug case goes to jury

Tape of alleged cocaine sale heard on final day of court-martial

By FRED ZIMMERMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 30, 2005

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The fate of a Marine accused of leading a Camp Hansen drug ring was sent to the jury Thursday during the second day of the Marine’s court-martial. The jury began deliberating about 5 p.m., retired for the night at almost 8 p.m. and was to resume at 8 a.m. Friday.

Thursday’s proceedings began with prosecutors playing an audiotape. They said it was of NCIS informant Cpl. John Bennett, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (III MHG), buying 2 grams of cocaine and one Ecstasy pill from the accused, Cpl. Byron Lewis, also from III MHG. Lewis is charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, Ecstasy and marijuana and illegal possession and distribution of all three drugs.

On Oct. 29, Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents secreted a tape recorder on Bennett and drove him to visit Lewis at Barracks 2725 on Camp Hansen. According to the tape, Bennett and Lewis entered Lewis’ room, where Bennett said, “Damn. Cool, that’s some nice [expletive].”

“He only gave me 5 grams though,” Lewis replied.

“That’s it?” Bennett said.

“Yeah,” Lewis said.

“That’s cool, though,” Bennett said.

A short time later, Bennett said “Let me get this,” and “a pill.” Prosecutors contend he was referring to a 2-gram bag of cocaine and an Ecstasy pill. The tape indicates Lewis told him the cost was “$290” and that Bennett paid him $300 and asked for change.

Bennett also could be heard asking when he could get drugs. Lewis replied, “Anytime, I can call him and he can shoot up here.” Bennett testified Wednesday he believed Lewis’ supplier was from Naha.

After the audiotape, Pvt. Julio Martinez, 3rd Medical Battalion, was recalled to testify. On Wednesday, Martinez, originally a prosecution witness, said Lewis never gave him drugs and he never conspired with Lewis to sell drugs. That testimony contradicted Martinez’s testimony in a related court-martial and statements he signed naming Lewis. Martinez said Wednesday he actually bought drugs from then-Sgt. Lee Risner, now an incarcerated private, and that threats from Risner, plus NCIS pressure, made him name Lewis as the supplier.

On Thursday, Martinez altered his testimony again, saying he did buy drugs from Lewis and conspired with him to sell drugs.

“I did not tell the truth because of intimidation in the brig,” Martinez said. He said Lewis threatened him indirectly through Pfc. Eddie Few, also of III MHG, a Lewis friend. He quoted Few assaying, “No one better snitch on my boy or I’m going to get you.” Martinez testified he took “my boy” to mean Lewis.

Lewis’ attorney, Capt. Tom Jasper, asked Martinez if, after Wednesday’s testimony, prosecutors had told him he’d lose his pre-trial agreement to knock three years off his seven-year sentence if he didn’t revert to his original account. Martinez said that did happen but it wasn’t why he again changed his testimony.

Jasper then asked Martinez if he’d told a brig-mate he was worried he’d lose his pre-trial agreement. Martinez answered, “Yes.”

Next was the first defense witness, the brig-mate Martinez talked to, Pvt. Paul Woodman, Marine Corps Base Headquarters and Service Battalion. Woodman, jailed on unrelated charges, testified many of the those involved in the drug case said they didn’t buy drugs from Lewis.

The last witness was Few, who said he never saw Lewis smoke marijuana or deal drugs. Few said he was in the room the night the Bennett’s audiotaped drug purchase reportedly took place. He said he was drinking liquor and watching a pornographic movie to celebrate being released from the brig that day.

He said he saw no drugs exchanged but did see Bennett pay Lewis $300, which he thought was to repay a loan.

Few was the last witness. After a several-hour break, Maj. Anthony Williams, who presided at the court-martial, gave his instructions to the jury panel. Williams told jurors he had found Lewis not guilty of one charge, making false official statements.

If Lewis is found guilty of all charges, he faces a possible dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a maximum of 152 years of confinement.


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