Trial date set for Marine in Romanian’s death
September 20, 2005
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Marine embassy guard accused of killing a Romanian rock star in a car accident in December, will face a general court-martial beginning Jan. 23.
Staff Sgt. Christopher VanGoethem, 32, was commander of the Marine security detachment at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest when his vehicle struck a taxi carrying 50-year-old Teofil Peter.
Peter suffered major head injuries and died at the scene.
VanGoethem’s court-martial will be held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., according to Maj. Cliff Gilmore, a spokesman for the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Quantico is the same venue where the Marine faced an Article 32 hearing July 25-26.
Following that hearing, which is the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation, 4th MEB commander Col. Glen Sachtleben recommended VanGoethem face court-martial on four charges: negligent homicide, adultery, obstructing justice and making false official statements.
VanGoethem faces a dishonorable discharge and up to 14 years in military prison if he is found guilty and receives the maximum punishment on all four charges.
Between now and the court martial, VanGoethem has some decisions to make about how he wants events to proceed, Gilmore told Stripes.
First, VanGoethem has a right to choose whether his court martial will involve a judge alone, or a judge and a court marshal board, which is the civilian equivalent to a jury.
If VanGoethem chooses only a military judge to preside, the judge will hear the case, render a verdict, and determine sentencing if needed, Gilmore said.
If VanGoethem chooses to go before a court-martial board, a military judge will still preside, but the board members will determine a verdict and recommend sentencing if needed.
A court martial-board must include a minimum of five military members, Gilmore said.
“There is no upward limit to the size of a board, but it is common to start with a pool of 10 to 12 potential members,” he said.
If VanGoethem chooses a court martial board, he also has some say in its composition. He can choose either a board of officers only, or a board of both officers and enlisted.
For a mixed board with officers and enlisted Marines, a minimum of one-third of the members must be enlisted personnel, Gilmore said.