S. Korea-based soldier sentenced for indecency offenses
Stars and Stripes March 13, 2008
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A night involving vodka, a camera phone and “heavy petting” in a barracks room cost a preventive medicine soldier his rank plus much of his freedom for the next three months.
Spc. Sean Welch, 5th Medical Detachment, was sentenced Tuesday in a general court-martial to a demotion to E-1, two months of restriction and three months’ hard labor without confinement after pleading guilty to committing an indecent act, conspiracy to commit an indecent act and falsifying an official statement.
According to his testimony, he was drinking vodka mixed with an energy drink and playing video games in his barracks on Aug. 9 with his roommate, Cpl. Lee Woo-sang, a Korean Augmentee to the U.S. Army.
They were later joined by a female soldier and Pfc. Michael McPhatter of the 121st Combat Support Hospital, who had been drinking at an off-post bar.
Lee and McPhatter left the room and the woman became flirtatious and took off her shirt, Welch said.
Welch said he and the woman then engaged in “heavy petting, fondling and moving toward … not quite intercourse, but playing.”
Lee and McPhatter returned to the room and stayed to watch Welch and the woman carry on, with Lee recording it on his cell phone camera.
Welch told judge Col. Donna Wright that he knew Lee was filming, and at one point smiled for the camera.
Welch said he was sure the woman was aware of other people in the room, though she may have been unaware of the camera.
During sentencing, the woman testified that she considered Welch a friend until the incident. She said she found out about the video a few days after the incident when another soldier told her about it.
“I feel very violated and scared [the video] still exists,” she said.
She also said Lee’s family had offered to settle with her, and that she had demanded $100,000. A cash settlement is a common practice for South Koreans accused of crimes.
“I feel that if they’re trying to pay me off I deserve that much,” she said.
During an unsworn statement, Welch cried, and apologized.
“My deepest regret of all is all of the special moments I won’t share with my wife,” he said as he wiped away a tear. “I let her down and now she has to suffer the hardship and embarrassment of having a husband in confinement.”
Prosecutor Capt. Cesar Casal asked for a sentence of 10 months of confinement and a bad-conduct discharge, though after the trial he said he was not surprised by Welch’s sentence.
“We expected his sentence would be kind of light because he wasn’t the most culpable person in the group,” Casal said.
The maximum sentence he could have received was 10 years of confinement, a dishonorable discharge, demotion to E-1 and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
Because Lee is a South Korean soldier he is not subject to U.S. military courts.
A spokesman for the South Korean army said Lee was found guilty by a military disciplinary committee of committing a “breach of military discipline” and sentenced to 10 days in a military jail. He finished serving his time in August and was returned to his unit to complete his military obligation.
McPhatter goes to trial Thursday for his part in the incident.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.