Okinawa Marine found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in daughter's death

Sergeant sentenced to eight years, dishonorable discharge

By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 3, 2008

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marine Sgt. Bassa Cisse was sentenced to eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge Wednesday for beating to death his 6-year-old daughter.

A court-martial panel deliberated for 2½ hours, finding Cisse — charged with murder in the fatal beating — guilty of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter.

The panel decided that Cisse, who had pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the trial’s opening day last Friday, was more than negligent when he disciplined Naffy Cisse — his daughter from a previous relationship — in the family’s tower apartment on Camp Foster for soiling her clothes.

According to court testimony, he struck her several times, knocked her down as she was spreading her clothes to dry while naked on the balcony, and then angrily stomped on her when he walked back inside the apartment.

She died of a fractured skull and internal injuries.

The conviction for involuntary manslaughter means Cisse killed her while performing another illegal act — battery — for which he faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

It took the jurors just 80 minutes to return their sentence.

It was not clear how much weight the jury gave the defense’s argument that the beating was an act of rage brought on by Cisse’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

An Air Force psychiatrist testified that Cisse suffered from PTSD as a result of his second tour in Iraq, when a patrol vehicle he commanded almost tipped over a cliff. However, the prosecution submitted a medical report by a Navy psychologist that rejected the PTSD diagnosis. Evidence was also submitted to show Cisse never witnessed any hostile fire and that his unit did not lose anyone because of hostile actions during the unit’s tour in early 2007.

Cisse, 33, assigned to Marine Wing Communications Squadron 18, displayed little emotion as the sentence was announced.

Earlier, he broke into tears as he apologized for his actions. Sobbing, he stood facing the panel, a piece of paper shaking in his hands as he spoke.

"I am ashamed," he said. "For no good reason, I lost control. I literally beat my daughter to death. I will never stop thinking about it. It is a nightmare."

His wife and several friends sitting behind him wiped their tears as he continued.

"I was so stupid and irresponsible that I killed my own daughter," he said. "I am sorry. I am deeply sorry."

During the sentencing phase, his wife, Mafima, testified that his two children missed him terribly during the year he has spent in the brig on Camp Hansen, awaiting trial. They got to visit him on weekends, she said, but he was always shackled.

Cisse was free of restraint while awaiting sentencing and could be seen smiling broadly as he held his daughter in his arms while walking his son down the hallway.

Maj. Gregory Palmer, the lead prosecutor had argued for the maximum sentence.

"What’s the value of a 6-year-old girl?" he asked. "It cannot be evaluated in terms of numbers, but it certainly might be worth 10 years."

Neal Puckett, the civilian lead defense attorney, argued 10 years was excessive.

"You reached what we consider the right verdict," he said. "[But] we’re not looking at an evil man. We’re looking at a man who on one day made the most serious mistake he will ever make."

He then asked the panel not to also punish Cisse’s wife and two young children. Mafima Cisse said her husband also sent money back to their native Ivory Coast, to help support an extended family.

"I don’t know what I will do," she said when asked how the family would survive if Cisse was sent back to jail.

"Consider the full and lasting effect the punishment will have on others," Puckett said. "[Cisse] will live the rest of his life in his own personal hell."

During his closing arguments, prosecutor Palmer belittled the defense’s attempt to paint the death of Naffy Cisse as something similar to running over a child because of not being careful when backing out of the driveway.

"His wife and two children depend on him," Puckett said.

"Oh, let’s just all join hands and say ‘Kumbaya,’ " Palmer said in response. "You’ve got to be kidding me."

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