VICENZA, Italy — A staff sergeant charged with running his unit’s drug testing program was found guilty in a general court-martial Friday of using marijuana himself and engaging in a conspiracy to hide another soldier’s drug use.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Walker pleaded guilty to six charges in all and was sentenced to eight months in prison, loss of $898 in pay a month during that span, reduction in rank to E-1 and a bad-conduct discharge. He originally faced a maximum sentence of more than 26 years in prison, but three charges were consolidated for sentencing purposes, leaving him with a possible sentence of 17 years, 6 months.

The military judge, Col. R. Peter Masterton, chose a sentence somewhere in between what the prosecutor, Capt. Kimberly Barnard, and defense counsel, Capt. James Hill, had argued for.

Barnard proposed a minimum sentence of 30 months, pointing out that Walker admitted to smoking marijuana with a private about 30 times from July to February.

Walker was also a unit prevention leader for a platoon of the 14th Movement Control Battalion, responsible for collecting urine samples from soldiers in his unit. But he admitted to providing advance warning to that same private four or five times about upcoming surprise screenings. He also asked a sergeant who was supposed to be observing the test to urinate into a cup for the private in one instance when it was thought the private would test positive. That sergeant did so and the private’s drug use remained undiscovered at the time.

“The accused used his rank and position to undermine the system,” Barnard said.

Hill introduced a series of performance reviews and testimony portraying Walker as a model soldier. He said he became an NCO after a little more than three years in the Army. Walker also waived an Article 32 hearing and agreed to plead guilty four days after he was accused. Hill said he wanted his ordeal to be as painless as possible for his unit and his family.

“Even in his darkest hour, he was still thinking about his unit and about the Army,” Hill said.

Walker pleaded with Masterton to let him stay in the Army.

“I would like a second chance, so I can make it up to the Army for what I’ve done,” he said. “I’ve been a private before and I can do it again.”

Walker apologized to his unit, his family and the Army’s NCO corps.

“Unfortunately, everyone has demons and mine got the best of me,” he said.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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