'We had to kill him for snitching,' sailor says in video shown at court-martial
June 23, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — As Seaman Adam Palecco lay on the ground, his throat cut and blood pouring from numerous other knife wounds, his friend squatted near his head and watched the life drain from the sailor’s eyes.
“I was looking at his face and he was looking at me, just staring,” Seaman Robert L. Person Jr. said in a video re-enactment of the Feb. 2 murder. Person told investigators he and two other sailors stabbed Palecco to death because he was going to “snitch” about their involvement in a shoplifting ring.
“He was lying there, bubbling sounds still coming from his mouth, so I stabbed him in the chest,” Person said in the video, as he squatted on the ground next to the head of a mannequin used to represent the murdered sailor.
“Then I sat down like this and just stared at him,” Person said unemotionally.
The video was one of three taped crime re-enactments shown during Person’s court-martial Tuesday in Keystone Circuit Court. Person, 19, of Turrell, Ark., pleaded guilty to charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, obstructing justice and larceny.
As part of a pretrial agreement, he waived his right to a preliminary hearing and prosecutors agreed to not seek the death penalty. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.
Person, wearing a dress-white Navy jumper, showed no emotion as he answered questions put to him by the military judge, Marine Lt. Col. D. J. Daugherty. Person’s parents sat on a bench directly behind him and watched, showing little emotion as their son admitted to Palecco’s murder.
Also facing murder charges are Seaman Tiffany Marie Brooks of Carthage, Miss., and Seaman Audley G. Evans II of Royal Palm Beach, Fla.
According to stipulated evidence presented at the trial, the four sailors were part of a shoplifting ring that targeted Marine and Air Force base exchanges on Okinawa from September through January. They reportedly stole more than $5,000 worth of items, including cameras, DVDs and clothing.
They also worked together at the Camp Hansen Dental Clinic and lived in the same barracks. Person and Evans were roommates and Palecco’s room shared a common bath.
According to testimony, a fifth member of the ring who had already been court-martialed passed word to Evans, thought to be the ring’s leader, that Palecco was going to testify against them. Palecco was to be tried Feb. 4 for larceny.
In court Tuesday, Person said he, Brooks and Evans decided to kill Palecco on Feb. 1.
“Evans said Palecco had to go,” Person said. “We had to kill him for snitching.”
“You verbally agreed to kill Palecco?” Daugherty asked.
“Yes, sir,” Person replied, matter-of-factly.
In the re-enactment videos, they said they stole knives and gloves from the Camp Hansen exchange the next day and Person met with Palecco at the dental clinic at 8:15 p.m. He then walked him along a path to where Brooks and Evans were waiting.
Evans attacked Palecco first, they said, grabbing his head from behind and slitting his throat with a knife. Palecco fell to the ground and Evans stabbed him several more times before Person and Brooks joined in, they said.
An autopsy showed Palecco, 21, a Korean adopted by an American couple from Hackettstown, N.J., was stabbed 17 times.
The trio then pulled the body to a more secluded place, they said. In their re-enactments, Evans and Brooks said Person nearly decapitated Palecco with his knife. Brooks said she then stabbed Palecco’s left eye.
After they were sure Palecco was dead, Person and Evans dragged him into a drainage tunnel, where his body was discovered two nights later, according to the testimony.
At the end of each video re-enactment, the defendants were asked if they had anything else to say for themselves or to Palecco’s family. Person and Brooks had nothing else to say.
Evans made an apology.
“I did it because I was afraid to get in trouble more than I was,” Evans said. “We had to do what we had to do … I been doing dirt since I got in the military. I apologize.”
Person’s court-martial is expected to end Wednesday. Brooks’ is scheduled for Sunday and Monday. She also is expected to plead guilty, a court docket indicated.
No court date has been set for Evans. Also facing trial is his girlfriend, Marine Lance Cpl. Jesika I. Jenkins, who also is charged with murder because she reportedly knew beforehand about the plan to kill Palecco and provided Evans with a false alibi.