Sergeant found not guilty in hazing suicide of Army private
(CBS/AP) FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - A military jury has found an Army sergeant not guilty of negligent homicide and hazing in the death of an Army private who killed himself in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Adam Holcomb was found guilty Monday on two lesser charges, maltreatment of a subordinate and assault. He faces a maximum of 2 and 1/2 years in prison instead of the 13 and 1/2 years he could have received if he was convicted of all charges.
The 10-member jury deliberated for two hours in military court at Fort Bragg Monday after hearing closing arguments.
Holcomb was the first of eight soldiers to be court-martialed for the alleged racial hazing of Pvt. Danny Chen, who killed himself last October. Prosecutors alleged that the soldiers physically and emotionally abused Chen, according to CBS affiliate WRAL in Raleigh. Court documents claim Chen was kicked, dragged from his tent, forced to crawl on a gravel path and had sandbags tied to his arms. He was also verbally abused with racial slurs like "dragon lady" and forced to speak to other soldiers in Chinese.
"Of course he was going to get away from it - with nowhere to go. If you treat someone like that, someone is going to snap," the prosecutor said.
A witness who had found Chen's body, Pfc. Degan Berhe, testified that Chen told him he wanted to commit suicide because of the mistreatment he received from Holcomb, WRAL reported. He said he waited five days to tell his superiors about Chen's state of mind because he didn't trust his immediate superiors.
"I thought they wouldn't take me seriously. I didn't know whom I should trust," he said.
Throughout the trial, the defense painted Chen as an incompetent soldier disowned by his family. They claimed that Chen killed himself because of his family troubles and had only received "corrective training" to help encourage him to stay awake when on guard duty, WRAL reported. Another soldier, Pfc. Brian Johnson, testified that Chen seemed "completely broken" but agreed that Chen had been depressed because of his family issues, especially their disappointment because of his decision to deploy.
"Nothing shows that his suicide is the natural and probable result of Holcomb's actions," defense attorney Capt. Anthony Osborne said in his closing argument.
"This is a case of a completely unprepared private showing up in war," Osborne said. "If a soldier can't have discipline in the basic things, men will die.
© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.