The Kevlar helmet, flak jacket and dog tags of Seaman Adam J. Palecco were placed center stage at Camp Hansen, Okinawa’s West Chapel during a memorial service Feb. 9 for the slain dental technician. On Monday, the last of four people charged in connection with his death was sentenced to life in prison.

The Kevlar helmet, flak jacket and dog tags of Seaman Adam J. Palecco were placed center stage at Camp Hansen, Okinawa’s West Chapel during a memorial service Feb. 9 for the slain dental technician. On Monday, the last of four people charged in connection with his death was sentenced to life in prison. (Joel Abshier / U.S. Marine Corps)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Seaman Audley G. Evans II, 20, was dry-eyed when he listened to a military judge give him a life sentence Monday for the brutal murder of a fellow dental technician on Camp Hansen on Feb. 2.

A pretrial agreement reduced his sentence of life without parole to life with possibility of parole on the condition that Evans waive his right to appeal for parole or clemency for 40 years.

Marine Col. B.D. Landrum also sentenced Evans to a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and reduction in rank to E-1.

Evans, the leader of a shoplifting ring that preyed on Okinawa’s base exchanges, pleaded guilty in Keystone Judicial Circuit Court here Friday to charges of larceny, obstructing justice, conspiring to commit murder and murder in the death of Adam J. Palecco, 21. According to evidence produced during the two-day court-martial, he conspired with two other members of the ring to kill Palecco because he believed Palecco was about to tell military authorities what he knew about the thefts.

In videotaped recreations of the crime shown in court Friday, Evans and Seamen Robert L. Person Jr., 19, and Tiffany Marie Brooks, 21, said they lured Palecco the night of Feb. 2 to an isolated area behind the dental clinic where they all worked.

Without warning, Evans cut Palecco’s throat and the threesome riddled his body with 16 more stab wounds, nearly decapitating him and gouging out his left eye. Evans and Person then dragged his body into a drainage tunnel, where it was discovered two days later.

Monday was a day for tears in the courtroom as Palecco family members testified how the murder of the Korean orphan they adopted into their Hackettstown, N.J., home had left a hole in their hearts that would never be filled.

They were followed by tearful members of Evans’ Royal Palm Beach, Fla., family, who said in videotaped testimony they could not understand how such a “nice boy” could have been involved in something so heinous.

Finally, Evans shed his own tears as he stood and faced the Palecco family in the front row of the public gallery and apologized.

“Power over ourselves is the only power we really have and true power is the power of self-control,” he said, tears trailing down both cheeks. “It’s the power I lacked on February 2, 2005. I’m sorry. I can’t put myself in your shoes, I don’t know how you feel … but forgive me, I’m sorry.”

Evans also apologized to his father, who sat silently in the rear of the court, sniffling back his own tears.

“I disrespected my family,” Evans said. “I shamed myself. I was raised better than this.”

Moments later, Marine Lt. Col. Kurt Brubaker, the lead prosecutor, argued that Evans’ tears were not for Palecco, but for himself. He called Evans a “thieving, conniving, murdering coward” who used his charisma “to pull other people into the shoplifting scheme” and to kill Palecco.

“At the end of the day, the accused didn’t fall in with the wrong crowd,” Brubaker said. “He was the wrong crowd. He planted the seeds of criminal intent with the others. The others are going down because of him.”

At previous courts-martial in June, Person, of Turrell, Ark., was sentenced to life with all but 60 years suspended and Brooks, of Carthage, Miss., was sentenced to life with all but 65 years suspended.

Evans’ girlfriend, Marine Lance Cpl. Jesika Jenkins, 20, of Jacksonville, Fla., was sentenced in August to four years in prison for aggravated assault. She pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy and providing Evans with an alibi.

In court Monday, Raymond Palecco, 62, a carpenter, sobbed as he described his son as a “terrific” kid who was very close to his two natural children, Jason, 21, and Kelsey, 14.

“I really don’t want to be here,” Palecco told the judge. “I don’t like courts. I love Adam and I will never see Adam ever again.

“I think about this and, I have to be honest with you, I don’t like to think about it very much.”

Testifying by telephone from home, where she is bedridden, Palecco’s adoptive mother, Bonnie, described her slain son as a “dreamer.”

“He was always an optimist, always full of hope,” she said. “Now all that’s been taken away from him — taken away from us.”

Her son’s body was so mutilated they couldn’t have an open casket funeral service, she said.

“You even took that away from us,” she said, her voice rising indignantly.

“And for what? So you wouldn’t go to jail for stealing?”

In a written statement given to Stars and Stripes after the court-martial, the Palecco family thanked the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for “the speedy apprehension” of Evans and the others, but said they did not support the pretrial agreement.

“If the brutal premeditated murder of a service member by a gang, on a military base does not warrant the maximum penalty … what does?” the statement read.

Also testifying Monday was Audley G. Evans Sr., 55, who said Evans was a “joy to father.”

He said he did not understand how such a promising young man, who joined the Navy because he wanted someday to be a dentist, could have taken a wrong turn.

He then turned to the Palecco family, where Raymond sat hunched over, his head in his hands.

“There’s nothing I can say to bring your son back,” he said. “But remember your Christian teaching that says you need to forgive.”

As he left the witness chair, Evans walked by Raymond Palecco, paused and offered his hand.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he said in a choked voice.

Palecco raised his head and took Evans’ hand in his.

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