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Trial dates set for Parris Island drill instructor allegedly linked to recruit's death

By WADE LIVINGSTON | The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 9, 2017

Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix’s trial for his alleged involvement in the death of a Muslim recruit at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island will begin this summer, according to the Corps.

Felix, a former drill instructor who was arraigned April 26, faces charges ranging from cruelty and maltreatment to obstruction of justice and will be tried by general court-martial between Aug. 7-25 at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., said Corps Training and Education Command spokesman Capt. Joshua Pena.

“Obviously, when you look at the charge sheet, it’s long,” said Felix’s attorney, U.S. Navy Lt. Clay Bridges, assistant senior defense counsel for Defense Service Office’s southeast region. “But we’re looking forward to defending Gunny Felix and his record in court.”

A Marine Corps investigation linked Felix to the death of Raheel Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Muslim-American recruit of Pakistani descent who died after a three-story fall at the depot in March 2016.

“It is our intention to be involved during the proceedings, and any plans to attend the hearing(s) are being actively discussed,” Siddiqui family attorney Shiraz Khan wrote in a statement late Tuesday afternoon.

Shortly before the fall, a drill instructor allegedly made a reportedly ill Siddiqui perform a series of punitive sprints in the barracks, according to the investigation. Siddiqui fell to the floor during the sprints. The drill instructor slapped Siddiqui, who was nonresponsive, in the face. Moments later, Siddiqui ran out the back of the barracks and reportedly jumped from the third-floor stairwell.

The drill instructor reportedly called Siddiqui a “terrorist” at some point during the 11 days the recruit spent on the island. And that same instructor should not have been supervising trainees at the time, the Corps said, since he was under investigation for his alleged involvement in a separate incident with a different Muslim recruit, who was ordered into a commercial clothes dryer and questioned about his faith and loyalty.

Felix’s charges are also linked to that incident, the Corps says.

Sgt. Michael K. Eldridge, a former drill instructor, also faces charges related to the dryer incident, according to Pena.

Eldridge, charged with violations of military law ranging from drunk and disorderly to cruelty and maltreatment, is scheduled to be arraigned at Camp Lejeune on Monday, May 15.

“We look forward to getting to trial,” his Beaufort-based attorney, Brian Magee, said Tuesday afternoon. “Procedurally, up to this point, the defense has not been able to confront any of these accusers under oath.”

Magee said he and his client opted to waive their right to a pre-trial hearing — called an Article 32 — when they were told no witnesses would be available for questioning.

Eldridge’s court-martial has been tentatively scheduled for sometime in September, according to the Corps.

He and Felix are two of six Marines facing courts-martial in the wake of Siddiqui’s death, since three separate investigations were linked and found a culture permissive of hazing and recruit abuse in Parris Island’s 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.

A recent investigation by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette found 24 hazing allegations — half of which have been substantiated, according to the Corps — at the depot since Jan. 1, 2014.

Each of the depot’s four training battalions have been investigated during that time.

“The command has been in contact with the Siddiqui family throughout the process to ensure they are notified of decisions made by (Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman, who convenes the courts-martial) and dates set by the military court,” Pena wrote in an email.

Khan confirmed he and his clients had been notified of the forthcoming proceedings, and he said the Corps should tell the family about “any administrative actions” it might have taken against other Marines.

In late March, Pena told the newspapers the Corps will not tell the public about such actions against personnel who are not high-visibility leaders.

“It’s all too concerning, and seemingly void of the transparency this matter requires,” Khan wrote, referring to the administrative actions. “As such, we have begun the process of initiating the necessary legal action(s) this case demands. We will not be providing details at this time.”

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©2017 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)

Visit The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.) at www.islandpacket.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Recruits climb over a wall during the obstacle course Feb. 25, 2013 on Parris Island.
DAVID BESSELY/U.S. MARINE CORPS

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