WüRZBURG, Germany — A Schweinfurt-based soldier involved in the late-night beating and robbery of a German couple was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in a military prison.

Pfc. Eric Barnett, 19, of the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, pleaded guilty to charges of robbery, assault and conspiracy. The military judge, Lt. Col. Robin Hall, also ordered him to forfeit $500 per month in pay for 12 months, to be reduced in rank to the lowest enlisted level and to be given a bad-conduct discharge.

Prosecutors at Barnett’s court-martial said he and another soldier followed Ralf and Nicole Zeitler as they walked home through a residential neighborhood in Coburg, a city near Schweinfurt, the night of Sept. 20.

As the Zeitlers reached the front door, said Capt. Treb Courie, the military prosecutor, the men jumped the couple. They are alleged to have ripped a chain from the man’s neck, knocked him to the ground, and beat him. Barnett also was accused of twisting the woman’s arm.

Barnett’s attorney, Capt. Ian Midgeley, portrayed him as an easygoing jokester, a good soldier who made a bad mistake while drunk.

Barnett told of growing up near Riverside, Calif. He developed a gift for mimicry, once earning a guest appearance on the 1980s TV show “Family Matters” after impressing the show’s producers with his dead-on portrayal of that show’s nerdy character, Steve Urkel.

Barnett said he served as a youth minister at his church during his teen years and led a Bible study group at his high school. He joined the Army to serve his country within a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he said. Two members of his chain of command testified Barnett had been a happy, uncomplaining soldier before the attack.

“Pfc. Barnett stepped out of character and became something he wasn’t that night,” Midgeley said. “There is nothing in the first 18 years of this person’s life to indicate he would be here [at court-martial].”

After pronouncing his sentence, Hall took the unusual step of suggesting Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the 1st ID, suspend the bad-conduct discharge if Barnett conducts himself properly during the next 18 months.

Pvt. Anthony Fugel, Barnett’s alleged accomplice, is scheduled for court-martial in January, prosecutors said.

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