Soldier in Korea convicted of 'wrongful appropriation' of truck
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A soldier’s trip to get a late-night snack last July constitutes “wrongful appropriation” of government property, a jury found Thursday in a special court-martial here.
But Spc. Derek A. Jones was not part of a plan to take the military-owned truck out for the night’s joyride or wreck it, the jury of five officers and four soldiers decided. He also won a not-guilty verdict in an assault charge that stemmed from an incident in August.
Jones, 22 and a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment of the 516th Personnel Services Battalion, still faces up to a year of confinement, a demotion to the Army’s lowest rank, a two-thirds reduction in pay and a bad conduct discharge. The jury was expected to decide his sentence Friday.
On Thursday, the jury also found Jones guilty of breaking off-base curfew, driving a privately owned car on base without the owner’s permission and driving that car without the proper license, all charges that stemmed from incidents not related to that summer night.
On July 3, another soldier, Pvt. Keith F. Clarke, broke into an office window on Camp Coiner, took some keys and got behind the wheel of a U.S. government-owned 1994 GMC Jimmy truck, according to court testimony.
Clarke — who was convicted last month of larceny and other charges from the incident — testified Thursday that he never told Jones and another friend the truck was stolen. Clarke said he just offered them a ride sometime after 10 p.m. to get food at the bowling alley.
“They were just passengers, sir,” Clarke testified.
Government prosecutor Capt. Rochelle Howard argued that getting into the truck amounted to a conspiracy to misuse government property, a conspiracy that continued when Clarke wrecked the truck on the way back from getting food.
“He had to have known,” Howard said in closing arguments, reminding the jury that Jones opted to take a ride from a lower-ranking soldier in a military truck late at night. Just after the wreck, Jones ran away along with the two other occupants, Howard added.
Defense attorney Capt. Seth Cohen said that theory made no sense.
“That’s why there’s no conspiracy here,” he argued.
Jones never took the stand in front of the jury and the defense called only two witnesses, including Clarke.
The defense did not dispute, however, that Jones took another short joyride in a privately owned vehicle on Camp Coiner in May. After the jury’s verdict, Jones apologized for the prank to the car’s owner, another soldier he knew.
“There is no excuse,” Jones said, reading aloud from an unsworn statement to the jury after the verdict was given. “I am thankful he is not mad at me.”
Jones also had faced a charge of punching a soldier in August. The defense argued the punch came after the victim had uttered a racial slur and then, a few minutes later, shoved Jones.
Col. Patrick J. Parish, the chief judge for the 6th Judicial Circuit who presided over Jones’ case, allowed the jury to consider the punch self-defense.
At the beginning of the court-martial, Jones had faced two additional charges: conspiring to obstruct justice and impeding the investigation about the wrecked vehicle.
On Wednesday, Parrish accepted not guilty pleas from Jones on both those charges after the prosecution presented its evidence.