Witness says soldier admitted role in fatal beating
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — In the early morning hours of July 4, 2005, Spc. Bobby D. Morrissette told a private that he thought he and others killed Sgt. Juwan Johnson in a gang-initiation beating ceremony, according to testimony in an Article 32 session Tuesday.
The testimony came during the Article 32 investigation for Morrissette in Kaiserslautern. Morrissette is the first soldier to be charged with murder in the 2005 beating death of Johnson during an initiation for a Chicago-based gang known as the Gangster Disciples.
The person testifying was the private. Stars and Stripes agreed to a request from Army officials that the private’s name not be published, out of fear that he could be harmed by others involved in the case who may not otherwise have known of his cooperation with prosecutors and the results of Tuesday’s session.
An Army public affairs officer said at least one other soldier has been charged as a result of the ongoing 17-month investigation that is well known for its $50,000 reward. The officer, however, did not know the specific charges that the second individual faced.
“[Morrissette] told me that he thought they killed ‘J,’ Sergeant Johnson,” the private said on the stand Tuesday.
He also testified that Morrissette told him that he thought people “went overboard” in beating Johnson during the ceremony. Morrissette told the private that several people beat Johnson for three to six minutes while Johnson had to stand, according to testimony. While Morrissette confided in him, Morrissette was rubbing his own right hand, which was swollen, the soldier testified.
He said Morrissette told him the reason those involved in the beating did not take Johnson to the hospital was because the hospital “asks too many questions.”
Johnson was assigned to the 66th Transportation Company and set to leave the Army in late July 2005.
Morrissette faces a maximum sentence of life without parole on eight charges and several specifications in those charges. The charges and specifications against Morrissette range from murder to professing to be a member of Gangster Disciples.
An Article 32 investigation is equivalent to a civilian grand jury and is open to the public. It is conducted to determine whether enough evidence exists against the accused soldier to proceed to a court-martial. The hearing’s investigating officer will make a recommendation to a convening authority if the matter should go to court-martial or be handled in another manner.
Several soldiers and Criminal Investigation Command (CID) special agents testified during Tuesday’s hearing. A special agent testified that one soldier he questioned in the investigation wanted to be transferred from Kaiserslautern because he feared for his life due to the number of Gangster Disciples in Kaiserslautern.
The private, who revealed his July 4, 2005, conversation to investigators, only did so this summer after at least four appointments with CID for questioning on another investigation.
He said he and Morrissette had a falling out after he learned the Gangster Disciples wanted to kill him, he testified. The threat prompted the witness to tell investigators what Morrissette had confided in him, he said.
“Once they threatened my life and the life of my children, I had to do what I had to do,” he testified.
The Article 32 hearing continues Wednesday with testimony expected from the medical examiner who performed Johnson’s autopsy.