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3 Army Vets Set Free After 25 Years In Prison For Crime They Say They Didn’t Commit
Three former U.S. Army soldiers convicted of a racially motivated murder they say they didn’t commit have been set free on bail after spending more than 25 years behind bars, The Associated Press reports.
Mark Jason Jones, Kenneth Eric Gardiner, and Dominic Brian Lucci were stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia when Stanley Jackson, a black man, was fatally shot in Savannah on the night of Jan. 31, 1992. The soldiers, who are white, were in Savannah at the time for an impromptu bachelor party for Jones, who was set to marry the next day. They were arrested hours after Jackson’s murder and sentenced to life in prison later that year. All three were in their early 20s.
Kenneth Eric GardinerPhoto courtesy of Chatham County Sheriff's Office
Now in their mid- to late 40s, Jones, Gardiner, and Brian were released from prison on Dec. 20 after a Savannah judge set bail at $30,000 apiece. The AP reports that the men plan to head home to spend the holidays with their families.
One of the men’s lawyers, Peter Camiel, told the AP that the trio shouldn’t have ever been charged — “let alone convicted” — of Jackson’s murder, echoing a chorus of supporters who have long pointed to a lack of evidence and conflicting witness testimonies as proof that Jones, Gardiner, and Brian were victims of a miscarriage of justice. Centurion Ministries, a nonprofit organization that works to free innocent people, took up the case in 2009.
Jackson was gunned down on a street corner in a high-crime neighborhood of Savannah at around 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1992. An eyewitness, James White, testified at trial that he saw Gardiner and Jones leaning out the windows of a 1992 Chevrolet Cavalier and shooting at Jackson. Later, however, White admitted that he hadn’t had a clear view of the shooters and was pressured to identify them as the soldiers.
Dominic LucciPhoto courtesy of Chatham County Sheriff's Office
The Georgia Supreme Court — which previously upheld the mens’ convictions — ruled last month that they were entitled to a new trial because prosecutors had improperly withheld evidence that would have helped their defense. The three were convicted in November 1992 of malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and sentenced to life in prison plus five years, according to the AP.
The state Supreme Court noted the absence of police records that showed officers had been notified of another racially motivated incident involving “white men with military style haircuts and semi-automatic weapons” that occurred about three hours after Jones, Gardiner, and Brian were arrested. A witness said those armed men had driven through a housing project threatening “to shoot blacks who hung out on street corners.”
Casting further doubt on the original verdict was the timeline of events. The trio spent the evening of Jan. 31, 1992, at a rehearsal dinner in Hinesville for Jones’ wedding and left in a car for Savannah between 9:15 or 9:30pm. It’s a 50-minute drive, which the Georgia Supreme Court determined indicates the men were still en route to Savannah at the time of Jackson’s murder. Additionally, as the AP notes, “no gun, casings or gunshot residue were found in the car.”
Mark JonesPhoto courtesy of Chatham County Sheriff's Office
Another key witness was a female Army officer who testified that Jones had told her earlier in the day of the murder that he was planning to shoot “a black guy” in Savannah that night. She said the conversation took place at Fort Stewart; however, according to Camiel, Jones wasn’t even on base that day because he was on leave for his wedding. The accusing officer’s story also changed several times.
Prosecutors have not yet said if they plan to retry the case. Camiel told the AP in November that the defense is prepared to keep fighting, but that a retrial “would be a terrible decision.”
“These guys have been in custody for so long,” he added. “It’s time to send them home.”
A Marine grunt stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is being considered for an award after he saved the lives of three people earlier this month from a fiery car crash.
Cpl. Scott McDonell, an infantry assaultman with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, was driving down Market Street in Wilmington in the early morning hours of Jan. 11 when he saw a car on fire after it had crashed into a tree. Inside were three victims aged 17, 20, and 20.
"It was a pretty mangled wreck," McDonell told ABC 15. "The passenger was hanging out of the window."
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.