Soldier cleared of two charges in joyride trial, but faces others
Editor’s Note: A correction has been made to this article since its original publication. The story below has been changed to reflect the correct information.
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A soldier who got a ride for a late-night snack with a few friends now faces charges of conspiring to misappropriate government property, according to testimony and arguments given in court here Wednesday.
Spc. Derek A. Jones, a passenger on the joyride on Camp Coiner and Yongsan Garrison this summer, also is accused of damaging and wrongfully appropriating the military-owned vehicle, according to court documents and arguments.
Jones was found not guilty Wednesday of conspiring to wrongfully appropriate a government vehicle and impeding an investigation about the same vehicle. He also faces other charges unrelated to the joyride. Testimony was expected to continue Thursday.
At about 10 p.m. July 3, Jones and another soldier caught a ride to Yongsan Lanes with Pvt. Keith F. Clarke, prosecuting and defense lawyers agreed in the first day of Jones’ court-martial before a nine-member panel.
But the agreement ends there.
The defense claimed Jones didn’t know that Clarke — who last month pleaded guilty to stealing and damaging the 1994 GMC Jimmy — had no permission to drive it. Defense lawyer Capt. Seth Cohen argued Jones didn’t conspire to take or wreck the vehicle, or to create a cover-up.
“You are going to find Spc. Jones had nothing to do with it,” Cohen told the five officers and four enlisted jury members.
But through arguments and testimony, prosecutor Capt. Rochelle Howard questioned why Jones, Clarke and the third soldier fled the wreck that night on Camp Coiner, leaving remnants of their meals and open doors.
Jones met the next day with the third soldier in the vehicle, Spc. Rebecca R. Williamson, listened to her plan to lie to investigators, then told her he planned to get a lawyer, Howard said. If Jones wasn’t involved, Howard argued, why would he have done that?
“Spc. Jones does not care,” Howard told the jurors in her opening statements. Clarke, Jones and Williamson knew they were committing crimes, she said.
Much of the government’s argument Wednesday rested on Williamson, who has received immunity for her testimony and nonjudicial punishment after the incident. On July 3, she testified, she and Jones were outside their barracks on Coiner awaiting a cab when Clarke pulled up and offered them a ride. She told jurors Clarke told them he got the GMC Jimmy from his job.
Returning from the bowling alley, Clarke smashed into a guardrail and the three soldiers ran away. When asked why she ran, Williamson said she knew Clarke didn’t have permission to be driving.
“I was scared,” she said, admitting she met with Clarke the next day to devise a misleading story to tell investigators. She later met with Jones and told him of the plan, according to her testimony. Jones advised her to get a lawyer, she told the court.
After the government rested its case Wednesday afternoon, Col. Patrick J. Parrish, chief judge, 6th Judicial Court in Seoul, found Jones not guilty of impeding the investigation of the joyride and crash.
Jones still faces a charge of violating curfew; driving a privately owned car without a proper license on May 14 on Camp Coiner; and striking Pfc. Cory M. Shugarts on Aug. 20 on Camp Walker.
Jones’ lawyer did not dispute the assault; he told jurors a racial slur and a shove from Shugarts prompted the punch.