Marine found guilty of shooting fellow Marine on New Year’s Day in 2019

Lance Cpl. Riley S. Kuznia, 20, was shot to death at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., on Jan. 1, 2019.


By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps has sentenced a lance corporal to five years in jail and a dishonorable discharge for the shooting death of a fellow Marine while they were on guard duty at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., on New Year’s Day in 2019.

Lance Cpl. Andrew M. Johnson was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and four charges of willful dereliction of duty as part of a plea agreement. He was sentenced June 5 to a reduction in rank to E-1 or private, loss of all pay, five years of confinement, and a dishonorable discharge, Capt. Allison Burgos, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Base Quantico, said in a statement Friday. The base is where Johnson was sentenced.

On Jan. 1, 2019, Johnson pointed his M9 service pistol at the head of Lance Cpl. Riley S. Kuznia, 20, and pulled the trigger “believing the weapon was unloaded,” Burgos said. A charge sheet released by the Marine Corps in August stated Johnson had pulled “the trigger in jest.”

“Lance Cpl. Johnson had not followed procedures to unload his pistol in accordance with Guard Company policy,” Burgos said.

Kuznia, from Karlstad, Minn., was a team leader for Guard Company at the barracks, according to the Marine Corps. Guard Company is responsible for providing security to the installation, according to the barracks website.

Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., is about a half-mile from the Washington Navy Yard and home to the Marine Corps Commandant. It hosts “Evening Parades” on Fridays throughout the summer, featuring the Marine Corps band, the service’s drum and bugle corps and its silent drill platoon.

At the end of his shift on the first day of 2019, Johnson unloaded his pistol alone and incorrectly, not waiting for a supervisor to watch him, Marine Capt. Brendan McKenna, the prosecutor in the case, said in August during a preliminary hearing, The Washington Post reported.

Investigators determined he had reversed the steps to unload the weapon safely, McKenna said during the hearing. Instead of removing the clip from the pistol first, he instead pulled back the pistol’s slide, ejected a bullet, released the slide forward and then removed the clip. Johnson had apparently forgotten when the slide moves forward with the clip still in the pistol, another bullet is pushed into the chamber. When he removed the clip, Johnson thought the gun was empty, McKenna said, according to The Washington Post.

He then pointed the pistol at Kuznia’s head, laughing as he called Kuznia by a nickname and then pulled the trigger, according to McKenna. When he saw Kuznia collapse with a head wound, Johnson became distraught and dropped the pistol.

Kuznia’s mother, Markelle Kuznia, wrote on Facebook a week after the sentencing that “no justice was served that day.” The family wanted Johnson to stand trial, not work out a plea bargain, she said.

Markelle Kuznia also wrote it was difficult to hear Johnson’s apology for killing her son because they “felt he made excuses for every action.”

“True apologies are when you man up and take full responsibility for your actions. Unfortunately, this never happened,” she wrote.

After the incident, the Marines’ unit — Guard Company — took steps to provide more supervision and personal accountability, Gunnery Sgt. John Jackson, a spokesman for Marine Barracks Washington, said in a statement Friday. This includes changes to shift turnover procedures and each day having an officer or staff noncommissioned officer who serves as the guard duty officer to provide more supervision.

“The newly implemented procedures provide more oversight and increased personal accountability of all service weapons and ammunition during the turnover process,” according to the statement.

Markelle Kuznia does not blame the Marine Corps or the Marine Barracks Washington for Kuznia’s death, holding just Johnson responsible for his actions in the shooting.

“Andrew pulled the trigger that ended my son’s life,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “His blatant disregard for human life, disregard for authority and inability to follow commands and procedures killed my son!”

Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

Riley S. Kuznia is shown in this undated photo from social media.