Okinawa sailor sentenced to 65 years for murder
June 29, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Trembling with each word, Seaman Tiffany Brooks found it hard to apologize in court Monday to the family of the friend she murdered in February.
“What I done was undeserving,” Brooks sobbed as she stood, her written statement shaking in her hand. “It was uncalled for.”
Brooks, 21, a dental technician from Carthage, Miss., was sentenced to life in prison without parole for her part in the Feb. 2 slaying of Seaman Adam Palecco. She pleaded guilty in Keystone Judicial Circuit Court to murder, conspiracy to commit murder and obstruction of justice. The plea was part of a pretrial agreement that saved her from a death sentence.
Brooks also was reduced in grade to E-1, forfeited all pay and allowances, and was given a dishonorable discharge. Under the pretrial agreement, the sentence in excess of 65 years was suspended for a period of 25 years and Brooks gave up her right to seek clemency for 25 years.
In the middle of her unsworn statement, Brooks paused and looked at Palecco’s father, sister and brother sitting in the packed courtroom’s front row.
“I’m sorry,” she said, hanging her head. “I know I caused the family pain and grief and there’s nothing I can do to bring Adam Palecco back. I’m sorry.”
Then turning to face the judge, Marine Lt. Col. D.J. Daugherty, she apologized to her victim.
“I can only pray now that he is peacefully in heaven,” she said.
In her stipulation of facts, answers to Daugherty’s questions and a video re-enactment she made of the crime, Brooks said she plotted with two other dental technicians to kill Palecco, 21, because they feared he was going to inform on their shoplifting ring. The trio lured Palecco to a darkened area of Camp Hansen at night. Seaman Audley Evans II, 20, of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., grabbed Palecco from behind and slashed his throat, Brooks said. Then she and Seaman Robert Person Jr., 19, of Turrell, Ark., took turns stabbing their co-worker. All four were assigned to the Camp Hansen Dental Clinic.
In his closing argument, lead prosecutor Lt. Col. Kurt Brubaker asked for a sentence of life without parole. “She has some leadership in this heinous crime,” he said, emphasizing that Brooks helped plan and commit the murder. As he spoke, Brooks glared silently at the judge.
Brubaker said Brooks was so callous she later handed out programs at Palecco’s memorial in the base chapel. He said the murder devastated the dental clinic staff, that the clinic’s senior leadership was transferred to other Okinawa bases and the staff’s close-knit feeling was destroyed.
Palecco faced court-martial on Feb. 4, the day his body was found. Planning to plead guilty, he’d already packed his belongings to prepare for the brig.
“He was just going to face the music like a man,” Brubaker said.
Brooks believed Evans’ story that Palecco was gong to inform about the shoplifting ring, he said. “And she killed him. She would rather kill Palecco … than see her friends get in trouble for what they had, in fact, done.”
He added that Brooks at first tried to blame Evans and Person but later confessed to her role.
Defense attorney Capt. Jennifer Woodmansee said Brooks came from a poor, broken family in a small town with few opportunities and that joining the Navy was seen as a positive step to improve herself. Woodmansee had produced testimony from family members and friends who said they would provide a support system for Brooks were she ever paroled.
“When she comes out of the brig, she will be past middle-aged,” Woodmansee said. “She will be a little old lady. And that’s if she makes parole. We can’t begin to know today what she is going to be like 20, 30 or 40 years from now.”