Soldier pleads guilty in Lamebearmurder, is given life sentence
WIESBADEN, Germany — One of two 1st Armored Division soldiers on trial for slaying a fellow soldier pleaded guilty Friday to murdering the infantryman during a Frankfurt robbery.
Judge (Col.) James Pohl sentenced Pfc. Jonathan Schroeder, 21, to life in prison with eligibility for parole, reduction to the lowest military pay grade, forfeiture of all pay and a dishonorable discharge.
The Army charged both Schroeder and Pfc. Andrew Humiston, 23, of Champlin, Minn., with felony murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and obstruction of justice in the death of Spc. Clint Lamebear. Humiston’s court-martial begins Tuesday.
“I am sorry for what I’ve done,” Schroeder told Lamebear’s family during the trial. “I want to give an excuse or a reason, but there is none.”
On Nov. 16, 2002, Lamebear, a Navajo from Church Rock, N.M., was found dead in a garage in Sachsenhausen, Frankfurt’s pub district. Schroeder and Humiston, both infantry mortarmen from the Friedberg-based 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, woke a drunken Lamebear at a bar and brought him outside to put him in a taxi, Schroeder testified. They learned Lamebear was stationed in Friedberg but didn’t know he was from their unit. Lamebear, 18, had only reported to the unit four days earlier.
“I made a joke,” Schroeder said. “We should just rob him. It started as a joke to teach him a lesson.”
Instead of bringing Lamebear to a nearby taxi stand, Schroeder and Humiston brought him down an alleyway to a dark garage, where they both hit Lamebear and took his wallet, Schroeder said. Lamebear, then on his knees, cried out, Schroeder said. To quiet him, Schroeder picked up a piece of wood and struck Lamebear’s head.
“He started shouting, and it scared me. I did the first thing I could think of — just knock him out,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder hit Lamebear three times, then threw the piece of wood onto a nearby roof along with Lamebear’s shoes, he said. Humiston and he stole 40 euros and tossed Lamebear’s wallet into the nearby Main River, Schroeder said.
While Schroeder admitted to drinking heavily that night, he told the judge knew what he was doing despite the effects of alcohol.
Schroeder returned to check Lamebear’s pulse three times, he said. In between the checks, Schroeder and Humiston returned to partying at a nearby karaoke bar, Schroeder said. By the third check, Humiston had left with a girl, and he alone found Lamebear dead, Schroeder said.
“I didn’t want him to be dead,” Schroeder told the single military judge who heard the case. “I hoped his wounds were not that serious.”
Hours later, a German man found Lamebear’s body next to a minivan.
Back at the enlisted quarters at Ray Barracks, Schroeder attempted to burn Lamebear’s military identification, he said. He and Humiston later cut the ID card to pieces and flushed it down the toilet, Schroeder told the court.
After Pohl accepted Schroeder’s guilty plea, Lamebear’s family took the stand.
His mother, Kristen June, fought tears as she described the Sunday afternoon when she returned from grocery shopping to find an Army officer waiting with the devastating news at her home. She had seen her son off at the airport in Albuquerque less than a week earlier. He spent just 96 hours at his unit in Germany before his death. They had warned him to be alert in a foreign country, she said.
“It never occurred to us to tell him to be aware of his fellow soldiers,” June said.
Her husband, James Benally, who cared for Lamebear like his son, glared at Schroeder as he took the stand. Benally told the court how he missed Lamebear’s infectious smile. A cousin, Joseph Toledo, spoke of his close relationship with Lamebear. Each grappled with emotions as they spoke of Lamebear, who was buried Nov. 26, the day after he would have celebrated his 19th birthday. The Army promoted Lamebear from private first class to specialist posthumously.
During the sentencing portion of the trial, Schroeder’s mother, Alicia Kutch, and his sister, Kristina Gitter, testified on his behalf. His grandmother, Velda Atchley, offered sentiment via telephone from her home in South Haven, Miss.
They described Schroeder’s upbringing. He was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, but spent much of his life on his grandparents’ horse farm in Mississippi. His father, an offshore oil technician, died when Schroeder was 12.
Under the agreement, Schroeder must cooperate with attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense in Humiston’s court-martial.
While Schroeder received a life sentence, his pretrial agreement called for him not to serve more than 70 years in prison and have the possibility for parole in the future. Pohl also credited Schroeder’s sentence with 234 days for his time in pretrial confinement and 6 more days because the government forced him to wear a dress uniform with the wrong rank sewn on his sleeve.