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Coast Guardsman accused of killing his 'best bud' during night of heavy drinking
CAMP PENDLETON — The military prosecution of a Coast Guardsman accused of murder began Wednesday with a preliminary hearing at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
Seaman Ethan W. Tucker, 21, was arrested August 28 after a seven-month Coast Guard investigation into the January death of Seaman Ethan Kelch, 19, who served on the same ship as Tucker— the Kodiak, Alaska-based high endurance cutter Douglas Munro.
Tucker is charged with murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, maiming, obstructing justice and making false official statements. Tucker has denied the charges but will not enter a plea unless the case is recommended for a general court-martial.
At Wednesday's Article 32 hearing — the military equivalent of a grand jury — military prosecutors said evidence and witness statements support their theory that Tucker "choked-out" and punched Kelch during a night of heavy drinking on an Alaskan beach on Jan. 26. Both men were under the legal drinking age at the time.
Believing Kelch was already dead, Tucker dragged him to the water where he left him facedown, prosecutors said. Kelch drowned.
Prosecutors said a third man, Coast Guard Seaman Trevin Hunter, witnessed Tucker put Kelch in a choke hold. According to prosecutors, Hunter saw both men fall and Kelch struck his head on the edge of a Conex shipping container, which was near the beach where his body was eventually found on Jan. 27.
Lt. Sara Gluckler, a Coast Guard prosecutor, told the court there is enough evidence in the investigative report to proceed to court-martial.
Navy Cmdr. Justin Henderson, Tucker's attorney, painted a different picture of what happened that night. The defense argued that Kelch often became belligerent when drinking and, on that night, he kept trying to "go for a swim" in the frigid waters off Amaknak Island.
"We will present evidence that Seaman Kelch was trying to, for whatever reason, go for a swim, and the other two were trying to grab him and pull him out for about half an hour," Henderson said after the hearing. He said a series of Snapchat videos recorded by Hunter show Tucker trying to keep Kelch out of the water before Tucker collapsed, exhausted and intoxicated.
The videos were not played in court. Henderson said the three men together had downed a single bottle of whiskey, R&R Reserve.
He said four first responders found Tucker the next morning passed out about 200 yards down the beach from where Kelch's body was later found.
According to the charge sheet, Tucker allegedly injured his hand in the attack but told investigators it was a result of "punching a steel bulkhead after learning of (Kelch's) death."
Tucker did not make a statement in court other than to respond to procedural questions from the hearing officer, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Benedict Gullo. Tucker did not look at autopsy photos shown in court.
Dr. Cristin Rolf, the Anchorage chief medical examiner who performed Kelch's autopsy, testified over the phone that she believed Kelch drowned, saying none of the injuries to his head appeared to be fatal.
Gullo will prepare non-binding recommendations about which charges should go forward for the convening authority, Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, the Coast Guard's Pacific Area commander, who will then decide if there will be a court-martial.
Henderson said he is working to get Tucker freed from the Miramar brig, where he has been held since his August arrest. He said Tucker is devastated by the loss of his "best bud."
"It's devastating for (Tucker) personally, but it was devastating for the whole ship," he said. "Kelch was really well-loved. Tucker, like everybody, is distraught about it."
Lt. Cmdr. Anthony DeStefano, a Coast Guard legal spokesman, declined to comment on the specifics of the case but said the service was committed protecting the rights of the accused.
"We're committed to uncovering the truth and pursuing justice," he said.
It is unclear when Fagan will determine whether the case proceeds to trial. Officials indicated a decision could come in a few weeks.
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‘Take what’s inside and get it outside’ — Air Force psychologist reminds airmen of mental health resources
Kirtland Air Force Base isn't much different from the world beyond its gates when it comes to dealing with mental illnesses, a base clinical psychologist says.
Maj. Benjamin Carter told the Journal the most frequent diagnosis on the base is an anxiety disorder.
"It's not a surprise, but I anticipate about anytime in the population in America, about 20% of the population has some form of diagnosable anxiety disorder, and it's no different in the military," he said.
Leading the way among the anxiety disorders, he said, were post-traumatic stress disorder "or something like panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder."
The DNA of a niece and nephew, who never met their uncle, has helped identify the remains of the Kansas Marine who died in WWII.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that 21-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Raymond Warren was identified using DNA and circumstantial evidence. Warren had been buried in a cemetery in the Gilbert Islands, where he was killed when U.S. forces tried to take secure one of the islands from the Japanese.
The Battle of Tarawa lasted from Nov. 20 to Nov. 23, 1943, and claimed the lives of 1,021 U.S. marines and sailors, more than 3,000 Japanese soldiers and an estimated 1,000 Korean laborers before the U.S. troops seized control, the agency said.
Arizona lawmakers are vowing to fight a plan by the Air Force to start retiring some of the nation's fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets — a major operation at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — as part of a plan to drop some older, legacy weapon systems to help pay for new programs.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former A-10 pilot, and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., both vowed to fight the move to retire 44 of the oldest A-10s starting this year.
During a press briefing last week, Air Force officials unveiled plans to start mothballing several older platforms, including retiring some A-10s even as it refits others with new wings.
MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un was filmed riding through the snow on a white stallion last year, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on 12 purebred horses from Russia, according to Russian customs data.
Accompanied by senior North Korean figures, Kim took two well-publicized rides on the snowy slopes of the sacred Paektu Mountain in October and December.
State media heralded the jaunts as important displays of strength in the face of international pressure and the photos of Kim astride a galloping white steed were seen around the world.
North Korea has a long history of buying pricey horses from Russia and customs data first reported by Seoul-based NK News suggests that North Korea may have bolstered its herd in October.
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A high-profile local Taliban figure who announced and justified the 2012 attack on teenage Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has escaped detention, Pakistan's interior minister confirmed a few days after the militant announced his breakout on social media.
Former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who claimed responsibility on behalf of his group for scores of Taliban attacks, proclaimed his escape on Twitter and then in an audio message sent to Pakistani media earlier this month.
The Pakistani military, which had kept Ehsan in detention for three years, has declined to comment but, asked by reporters about the report, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, said: "That is correct, that is correct."
Shah, a retired brigadier general, added that "you will hear good news" in response to questions about whether there had been progress in hunting down Ehsan.