Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
The first soldier to be convicted by a military court over the suicide of Private Danny Chen has been sentenced to 30 days, demoted one rank to an E4 and will have to pay a fine of $1,181.55, or half a month's salary.
Sgt. Adam Holcomb was found guilty Monday of assault and mistreatment of a subordinate. He was acquitted of the most serious charge of negligent homicide.
The Chen family traveled down to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to attend the proceedings. Elizabeth OuYang, a Chen family representative and president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, said she was appalled by the light sentence.
"Thirty days hardly equates with Pvt. Danny's life being cut short at the age of 19," she said. "Danny did not have an opportunity to get married, have children and his parents don’t have the privilege of a child that will take care of them when they are old.”
She added that the light sentence “calls into question the army’s commitment to diversity and respect. Asian-American parents will be petrified to send their sons and daughters to the army knowing that there are superiors convicted of racial maltreatment still serving.”
There are seven more courts-martial trials in Chen's death. Ben Abel, public affairs representative at Fort Bragg, said each trial is separate and could have different outcomes.
"We strive incredibly hard in the Army to ensure that we try each case on its merits, based on the evidence at hand," he explained.
Abel said the Commander at Fort Bragg has the ultimate authority to accept the 10-member military juries findings outright or he can lessen the punishment. “Based on the judicial system provided by Congress commanders can lessen the severity, but can’t impose more punishment than the panel recommends,” he said.
Holcomb was the first of eight soldiers facing charges for abuse that military prosecutors said led to Chen committing suicide in Afghanistan on October 3, 2011. Holcomb, who will be demoted to a Corporal, allegedly used racial slurs, such as “dragon lady” against Chen.
The next soldier to face trial starting on August 13 is Spc. Ryan Offutt. He is charged with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, three charges for assault, four counts of maltreatment of a subordinate and two counts of violation of lawful general regulation. According to his military charge sheet, he used racist language to refer to Chen and threw rocks and water bottles at him in Afghanistan.
One of the eight, Sgt. Travis Carden, who is accused of reckless endangerment, assault and two counts of maltreatment of a subordinate and two specifications of violating regulations, has been referred to summary court martial and his court martial has been postponed, Abel said.