Second GI arraigned on charges related to Rathaus fire
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Once they were friends, partying wildly in Baumholder.
But after a recent fight between the two at the Mannheim detention facility, it now appears that Spc. Samuel Bell, 22, and Pfc. Zachary Watson, 20, have become legal adversaries. Or, as Col. James Pohl — the presiding judge at both of their court proceedings Tuesday — said, “the two don’t agree with each other’s legal strategy, to put it politely.”
After a December Article 32 referred him to court-martial, Bell faces five charges including:
Being an accessory after the fact in the Aug. 11 fire that destroyed part of Baumholder’s government center, or Rathaus;Conspiracy to commit robbery in the assault on Helmut Jung, a German taxi driver;Making a false official statement, telling agents for the Criminal Investigation Command, or CID, that he was not involved in the Jung robbery;Being away from his unit, Company A, 40th Engineers (Combat), without leave;Using and distributing drugs including psilocybin, a hallucinogenic mushroom, and Ecstasy.While Bell was arraigned on those charges Tuesday morning, Watson pleaded guilty to similar charges at his court-martial in the afternoon.
It’s still unclear what impact Watson’s plea will have on Bell’s defense strategy, though that figured into both proceedings. Watson’s guilty plea came as part of a plea agreement that includes his testimony in several other potential trials, including Bell’s.
Moreover, Bell’s case could take several turns over the coming weeks, and the soldier may even get a new Article 32 hearing when proceedings resume, scheduled for Feb. 17 in Mannheim.
Other motions scheduled to be made before then include a defense request that Bell’s trial be moved to another location because of pretrial publicity and suppression of some testimony.
During the arraignment, Bell’s attorneys — Capt. Justin Evison and Capt. James Ford — also asked prosecutors Capt. Tyson McDonald and Capt. Laura Calese for a chain of e-mails from the senior commander, Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, to at least two Baumholder battalion commanders. Such a list, if it exists, could show undue command influence, Evison said.
During Bell’s arraignment, Pohl asked the prosecution to pick up the pace, noting Bell has been in pretrial detention since August, including 45 days in solitary confinement resulting from the fight with Watson.
“It strikes the court,” Pohl said, “that not as much has been done as could have been done” to get the case through the military justice system.