Soldier acquitted of attempted murder in S. Korea brawl
By ASHLEY ROWLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 3, 2009
The following correction to this story was posted July 2: A story about a court-martial stemming from a brawl in South Korea misstated the actions taken against Sgt. Markease Joyner and Spc. Markelle Joyner. The brothers were detained and questioned after the incident but were not arrested. They are each charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of providing a false official statement. Their first names were also misspelled.
SEOUL — A 20-year-old soldier was acquitted Tuesday of attempted murder in the stabbing of a Camp Casey soldier and former gang member after his attorney argued investigators had arrested the wrong person.
The Feb. 1 stabbing outside an Itaewon nightclub was the most high-profile in an escalating number of what U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp called "incidents of indiscipline" since last summer, when he shortened the weekend curfew to 3 a.m. to 5 a.m.
Pfc. Carlton J. Lyles Jr., of the 19th Adjutant General Company, had been charged with attempted murder and obstruction of justice for the stabbing at the King Club, where a melee started on the dance floor and continued on the street.
Investigators never closed the case, and fliers are still posted at Yongsan offering a $5,000 reward for tips leading to the recovery of a knife and clothes worn by the attacker, possibly in a plastic bag near the base.
Defense attorney Capt. Tim Bilecki said the continuing reward offer showed that investigators and prosecutors had rushed to judgment in a high-profile case by trying Lyles, who was arrested Feb. 2. The attorney said testimony and DNA evidence pointed to two other soldiers who are charged with aggravated assault for their role in the brawl.
"They had to solve the case. It’s pretty difficult for the government and CID (Criminal Investigation Command) to say they’ve got the wrong guy in jail, so they put the blinders on," he said.
Prosecutors, however, said testimony from one of Lyles’ friends, a CID agent and a video of the fight outside the club pointed to Lyles.
Witnesses said a brawl started inside the club shortly after 2 a.m., possibly over racial slurs or comments made about a woman.
After bouncers turned on the lights and emptied the club, a large group attacked Spc. Michael Charles and his friend, Pvt. Matthew Bonham, on the street outside the club.
A video taken from a closed-circuit street camera shows a dozen or so people standing on the sidewalk, then rushing into the busy street and attacking two people. The identities of those in the video are unclear except for their clothing, which prosecutors used to point out a figure involved in the fight they said was Lyles.
None of the witnesses who were at the club that night said they recognized Lyles, and several — including Charles — said they had never seen him before they testified in court.
"I don’t know who stabbed me," said Charles, who suffered a punctured lung and cuts on his head, forearm and leg.
Prosecution witness Pfc. Tequila McCoy said she saw blood on Lyles’ clothing after they arrived on post after the fight, and that he told her he’d stabbed someone outside the King Club.
Bilecki said McCoy’s testimony was unreliable because she had previously been punished for falsifying documents, and base entry records showed there was no record of her coming on post within half an hour of Lyles, although she claimed that they traveled to Yongsan together by cab.
CID Special Agent Elmer Mason said he asked Lyles if he had stabbed Charles.
"He responded that that was a very hard question to answer," Mason said.
Both Charles and Bonham said they were former gang members, and those who were attacking them were using gang slogans and signs. Charles said the fight was not gang-related.
Bilecki said evidence pointed to twin brothers Markease and Markelle Joyner, both U.S. soldiers who Bilecki said told investigators Lyles was involved in the stabbing. DNA tests showed that at least one of the twins’ clothing had Charles’ blood on it, Bilecki said.
The brothers, one of whom belongs to a military police unit, were detained and questioned following the stabbing. They were each charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of providing a false official statement, and will be court-martialed separately.
Lyles’ father, Carlton Lyles, mouthed "thank you Jesus" and cried as the panel announced its verdict. A major with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina, he said he didn’t think there was enough evidence for prosecutors to convict his son.
"I think they were just in a hurry to find somebody instead of looking at all the evidence," he said.