Marines charged with hazing that led to lance corporal's suicide
Three enlisted Marines have been criminally charged with mistreating a fellow Marine from California in the hours before he committed suicide in Afghanistan, the Marine Corps announced Thursday.
The three are accused, among other things, of "wrongfully abusing, humiliating and demeaning" Lance Cpl. Harry Lew of Santa Clara in Northern California. His aunt is Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park).
Lew, 21, killed himself with his machine gun April 3 while assigned to stand guard in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Lew and the three accused Marines were part of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, based at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Two lance corporals were reportedly angry at Lew for repeatedly falling asleep while on guard duty. Failing asleep on guard duty is a serious offense in the military, one that under the Uniform Code of Military Justice can carry a death sentence if committed in a war zone.
An Article 32 hearing, akin to a civilian preliminary hearing, is set for the three accused Marines on Sept. 8.
--Lance Cpl. Jacob D. Jacoby, 21, charged with kicking Lew in the back and head, and striking him on the helmet with a closed fist.
-- Sgt. Benjamin E. Johns, 26, a squad leader on his third combat deployment. Johns is accused of failing to keep his Marines from beating Lew and failing to protect Lew.
-- Lance Cpl. Carlos Orozco III, 22, on his second combat deployment. He is accused of stomping on Lew's back with his boot, kicking him in the head, ordering him to do pushups and leg lifts and pouring sand on his face.
After the mistreatment, Lew allegedly scribbled a farewell on his arm -- "May hate me now but in the long run this was the right choice. I'm sorry. My mom deserves the truth" -- and killed himself. His body was found in the foxhole -- called a "fighting hole" by Marines -- that he had dug for himself.
The battalion returned from Afghanistan in June.
"The Marine Corps prides itself on holding its members to the highest levels of accountability," said a Marine Corps spokesman. "The Marine Corps does not tolerate hazing of any kind."
--Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Lance Cpl. Harry Lew. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps