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Marines Charged In Copter Deaths

The pilot and navigator of a low-flying Marine jet that cut a gondola cable in the Italian Alps, killing 20 people, will face courts-martial for negligent homicide.

Marine Corps spokesmen at Camp Lejeune and the Pentagon said the recommendations of a military judge who held hearings for the four aviators aboard the EA-6B Prowler will be released Thursday.

Meanwhile, a senior officer says a U.S. military judge has recommended that the pilot and the navigator be court-martialed on charges of negligent homicide. They could be sentenced to life in prison.

Last month, Military judge Lt. Col. Ronald Rodgers held a hearing for the pilot, Capt. Richard Ashby, 30, of Mission Viejo, Calif., and the navigator, Capt. Joseph P. Schweitzer, 30, of Westbury, N.Y., to determine whether they should face courts-martial.

In May, the judge held hearings for the jet's backseat crew: Capt. William L. Raney, 26, of Englewood, Colo., and Capt. Chandler P. Seagraves, 28, of Nineveh, Ind. He has recommended that all charges be dropped against those two men.

Ashby said he hadn't been formally informed of the recommendation, Wednesday, but that he had heard from other sources he faced a court-martial.

"It just amazes me, the recommendation," Ashby said. "I'm pretty down, actually."

The Feb. 3 tragedy happened when the jet clipped the gondola cable, which was 370 feet above the ground, while the Marines were on a practice run out of the Aviano air base. The four were on temporary assignment at the base from the Cherry Point Marine Air Station in North Carolina.

Each Marine is charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter, 20 counts of negligent homicide, as well as charges of destruction of private property and military property and dereliction of duty.

The four fliers have denied flying recklessly, the major point of the government case against them.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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