Gangfighters Weblog

January 18, 2009

Airman’s court-martial under way in 2005 death tied to gang beating

Filed under: gangs, gangs in the military, gangster disciples, germany, juwan johnson — carterfsmith @ 7:40 pm
BY AMY SCHLESING

An airman at Little Rock Air Force Base is accused of involuntary manslaughter as one of at least eight suspects who investigators say fatally beat an Army sergeant in 2005 during a gang initiation at a U.S. military base in Germany.

Staff Sgt. Jerome A. Jones, 25, faces an array of charges in a court-martial at the base stemming from the death of Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson at Kaiserslaughtern, Germany. Jones, the other suspects and Johnson were stationed there at the time.

Jones’ court-martial is being held in Arkansas because it is his current duty station. The Air Force in September 2005 transferred him to the base in Jacksonville, where he has continued to work as a C-130 cargo plane crew chief with the 314th Airlift Wing.

In October, Jones was charged with six violations of military law as specified in the Uniform Code of Military Justice; some include multiple counts. In addition to involuntary manslaughter, the charges include three counts of conspiracy, two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of wrongful use or possession of a controlled substance, one count of failure to obey an order or regulation and one count of being an accessory after the fact.

Late Thursday, Jones stood before the court and pleaded innocent after two days of arguments in which his defense team sought to have the charges reduced or the case dismissed.

The day ended with opening statements. Testimony continued Saturday and is scheduled to resume Monday.

The case centers on two main questions: whether Jones participated in the beating in an initiation ritual that prosecutors believe led to Johnson’s death; and whether the initiation was into a violent gang or a nebulous group.

Capt. Peter Kezar, one of three prosecutors in the case, opened his arguments Thursday by describing a gang initiation ritual used by the street gang known as the Gangster Disciples – called a “jump-in,” in which each new member must endure a six-minute beating. He described it as escalating that night from “reckless” to a “free-for-all.”

Reports say the beating happened in a park pavilion in the woods outside Kaiserslaughtern. Johnson was alive when the group helped him back to his Army barracks at Kleber Kaserne, where he was stationed with the Army’s 66th Transportation Company, reports say. He was found dead in his room the next morning, July 4, 2005, slumped on the floor against a wall between his bed and desk.

“Each eyewitness will place the accused at that pavilion,” Kezar said, laying the groundwork against the defense team’s main argument that the witnesses are unreliable. “The government will not claim these witnesses are perfect people. … They all have their own reasons for testifying.”

Three other suspects in the case have been given prison sentences. Another suspect is headed to a court-martial in coming months. At least two suspects agreed to reduced punishment in a plea bargain in return for testifying against the others – including Jones.

Capt. Jeremy Emmert, one of Jones’ three defense attorneys, countered Kezar’s statement in his own opening before a lengthy list of witnesses began testifying Friday.

“[Staff] Sgt. Jones didn’t kill Sgt. Johnson,” he said. “Sgt. Jones doesn’t belong to a violent gang.” He said the government’s case against Jones relies on “self-preservation and stereotypes.”

What prosecutors call a gang was a “benign” group, Emmert said, “for brotherhood.”

“Each [government witness] has their own motive to lie about why they say Sgt. Jones was there,” he said, adding than he believed two witnesses were in collusion.

“And mere membership is not evidence beyond reasonable doubt,” he told the panel. “There is evidence that Sgt. Jones wasn’t there.”

The detail of charges against Jones claim that he was a member of the Gangster Disciples and was one of several military members who beat Johnson during his initiation that night. The charges further claim that he conspired with fellow gang members in the assault, that he impeded the investigation, and helped organize, raise money and recruit for the gang.

Belonging to a gang “that advocates the use of force or violence” is a violation of military law.

Court documents claim that Jones tried to persuade a witness not to testify, reporting that Jones said, “Make sure that you put the word out that everybody better shut up, don’t be talking and anybody that talks can cancel Christmas.”

Additional charges claim that he used marijuana and hindered the apprehension of a suspect by raising funds to help him hide. That suspect, believed to be a leader in the Kaiserslaughtern gang, has not been found.

The defense team made 13 pretrial motions in the week leading up to the court-martial, including requesting a mistrial based on claims that military investigators intimidated witnesses and asking for a reduction in charges, arguing that many are repetitive.

Judge Advocate General Lt. Col. Nancy Paul, the military judge presiding over the case, denied most of the motions. The charges stand as filed in October after Jones’ Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of an arraignment.

Maj. Conrad Huygen, a member of Jones’ defense team, also argued that additional security measures put in place outside the courtroom will cause prejudice among the jury members.

He said he believed it would have a “chilling effect” on the jury.

Every person entering the second floor of the building housing the base’s courtroom must go through a metal detector that was placed there specifically for the trial. Air Force security forces also scan everyone with hand-held detectors.

“I am satisfied that the measures being taken are necessary,” Paul said, adding that there have been threats against witnesses in this and other courts-martial related to the case.

Military courts-martial are separate from the civil court system. Any punishment is carried out under military code, confinement is in a military prison and the offenses are documented in a person’s military record rather than in the civilian criminal court system.

The witness list in Jones’ case is long and spans the globe.

A panel of 11 officers and enlisted airmen from the base was called for jury duty, and the opposing counsels spent most of Thursday vetting the members. Extensive questioning reduced the panel to five – three enlisted personnel and two officers. Unlike a civilian jury, members of the panel are allowed to question witnesses. The panel will determine guilt or innocence and determine a sentence if Jones is found guilty.

This trial also seeks to address whether the case is part of what is a growing trend in the U.S. military of gang involvement.

According to a 2006 report by U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division on gang-related activity, 104 suspected gang-related incidents and felony investigations were recorded from 2003 to 2006.

But the report also noted that the growth across the armed forces can be attributed to growing gang influence across the nation, not just in the military.

In 2006, gang-related crimes ranging from sexual assault to drug charges were reported at military bases in every theater of operation, from the United States to Europe and Iraq.

Asked about the situation at the air base in Jacksonville, a spokesman, Tech. Sgt. Kati Garcia, said, “Little Rock Air Force Base does not have a history of gang activity. It is fair to say that any gang involvement here is negligible at best.”

The U.S. military is a microcosm of society, she added.

“The positive and negative traits you see across the country are often mirrored in our military,” she said.

http://www.nwanews.com/adg/News/249815/

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Airman’s court-martial under way in 2005 death tied to gang beating

Filed under: gangs, gangs in the military, gangster disciples, germany, juwan johnson — carterfsmith @ 7:40 pm
BY AMY SCHLESING

An airman at Little Rock Air Force Base is accused of involuntary manslaughter as one of at least eight suspects who investigators say fatally beat an Army sergeant in 2005 during a gang initiation at a U.S. military base in Germany.

Staff Sgt. Jerome A. Jones, 25, faces an array of charges in a court-martial at the base stemming from the death of Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson at Kaiserslaughtern, Germany. Jones, the other suspects and Johnson were stationed there at the time.

Jones’ court-martial is being held in Arkansas because it is his current duty station. The Air Force in September 2005 transferred him to the base in Jacksonville, where he has continued to work as a C-130 cargo plane crew chief with the 314th Airlift Wing.

In October, Jones was charged with six violations of military law as specified in the Uniform Code of Military Justice; some include multiple counts. In addition to involuntary manslaughter, the charges include three counts of conspiracy, two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of wrongful use or possession of a controlled substance, one count of failure to obey an order or regulation and one count of being an accessory after the fact.

Late Thursday, Jones stood before the court and pleaded innocent after two days of arguments in which his defense team sought to have the charges reduced or the case dismissed.

The day ended with opening statements. Testimony continued Saturday and is scheduled to resume Monday.

The case centers on two main questions: whether Jones participated in the beating in an initiation ritual that prosecutors believe led to Johnson’s death; and whether the initiation was into a violent gang or a nebulous group.

Capt. Peter Kezar, one of three prosecutors in the case, opened his arguments Thursday by describing a gang initiation ritual used by the street gang known as the Gangster Disciples – called a “jump-in,” in which each new member must endure a six-minute beating. He described it as escalating that night from “reckless” to a “free-for-all.”

Reports say the beating happened in a park pavilion in the woods outside Kaiserslaughtern. Johnson was alive when the group helped him back to his Army barracks at Kleber Kaserne, where he was stationed with the Army’s 66th Transportation Company, reports say. He was found dead in his room the next morning, July 4, 2005, slumped on the floor against a wall between his bed and desk.

“Each eyewitness will place the accused at that pavilion,” Kezar said, laying the groundwork against the defense team’s main argument that the witnesses are unreliable. “The government will not claim these witnesses are perfect people. … They all have their own reasons for testifying.”

Three other suspects in the case have been given prison sentences. Another suspect is headed to a court-martial in coming months. At least two suspects agreed to reduced punishment in a plea bargain in return for testifying against the others – including Jones.

Capt. Jeremy Emmert, one of Jones’ three defense attorneys, countered Kezar’s statement in his own opening before a lengthy list of witnesses began testifying Friday.

“[Staff] Sgt. Jones didn’t kill Sgt. Johnson,” he said. “Sgt. Jones doesn’t belong to a violent gang.” He said the government’s case against Jones relies on “self-preservation and stereotypes.”

What prosecutors call a gang was a “benign” group, Emmert said, “for brotherhood.”

“Each [government witness] has their own motive to lie about why they say Sgt. Jones was there,” he said, adding than he believed two witnesses were in collusion.

“And mere membership is not evidence beyond reasonable doubt,” he told the panel. “There is evidence that Sgt. Jones wasn’t there.”

The detail of charges against Jones claim that he was a member of the Gangster Disciples and was one of several military members who beat Johnson during his initiation that night. The charges further claim that he conspired with fellow gang members in the assault, that he impeded the investigation, and helped organize, raise money and recruit for the gang.

Belonging to a gang “that advocates the use of force or violence” is a violation of military law.

Court documents claim that Jones tried to persuade a witness not to testify, reporting that Jones said, “Make sure that you put the word out that everybody better shut up, don’t be talking and anybody that talks can cancel Christmas.”

Additional charges claim that he used marijuana and hindered the apprehension of a suspect by raising funds to help him hide. That suspect, believed to be a leader in the Kaiserslaughtern gang, has not been found.

The defense team made 13 pretrial motions in the week leading up to the court-martial, including requesting a mistrial based on claims that military investigators intimidated witnesses and asking for a reduction in charges, arguing that many are repetitive.

Judge Advocate General Lt. Col. Nancy Paul, the military judge presiding over the case, denied most of the motions. The charges stand as filed in October after Jones’ Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of an arraignment.

Maj. Conrad Huygen, a member of Jones’ defense team, also argued that additional security measures put in place outside the courtroom will cause prejudice among the jury members.

He said he believed it would have a “chilling effect” on the jury.

Every person entering the second floor of the building housing the base’s courtroom must go through a metal detector that was placed there specifically for the trial. Air Force security forces also scan everyone with hand-held detectors.

“I am satisfied that the measures being taken are necessary,” Paul said, adding that there have been threats against witnesses in this and other courts-martial related to the case.

Military courts-martial are separate from the civil court system. Any punishment is carried out under military code, confinement is in a military prison and the offenses are documented in a person’s military record rather than in the civilian criminal court system.

The witness list in Jones’ case is long and spans the globe.

A panel of 11 officers and enlisted airmen from the base was called for jury duty, and the opposing counsels spent most of Thursday vetting the members. Extensive questioning reduced the panel to five – three enlisted personnel and two officers. Unlike a civilian jury, members of the panel are allowed to question witnesses. The panel will determine guilt or innocence and determine a sentence if Jones is found guilty.

This trial also seeks to address whether the case is part of what is a growing trend in the U.S. military of gang involvement.

According to a 2006 report by U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division on gang-related activity, 104 suspected gang-related incidents and felony investigations were recorded from 2003 to 2006.

But the report also noted that the growth across the armed forces can be attributed to growing gang influence across the nation, not just in the military.

In 2006, gang-related crimes ranging from sexual assault to drug charges were reported at military bases in every theater of operation, from the United States to Europe and Iraq.

Asked about the situation at the air base in Jacksonville, a spokesman, Tech. Sgt. Kati Garcia, said, “Little Rock Air Force Base does not have a history of gang activity. It is fair to say that any gang involvement here is negligible at best.”

The U.S. military is a microcosm of society, she added.

“The positive and negative traits you see across the country are often mirrored in our military,” she said.

http://www.nwanews.com/adg/News/249815/

May 24, 2008

Mother of sergeant fatally beaten in gang initiation takes aim at son’s killer, military

Filed under: gangs, gangs in the military, gangster disciples, germany, juwan johnson, murder — carterfsmith @ 4:11 pm

Saturday, May 24, 2008

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes European edition, Sunday, May 25, 2008 Steve Mraz / S&S

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Losing a child is like somebody stabbing you in the heart with an ice pick and leaving it in just so they can apply pressure. The ice pick is never ripped out of your heart, just constantly ripped at.

That’s how Stephanie Cockrell, the mother of a soldier beaten to death by fellow troops during a 2005 gang initiation, described the feeling of life without her only child, Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

During a court-martial last week for Airman Nicholas Sims, Cockrell told the court she is not proud her son joined a gang hours before his death on July 4, 2005. She wonders how she’ll tell her grandson about the identity of the father he will never meet.

The 28-year-old Sims — who has been in pretrial confinement for 162 days — was sentenced Friday to eight years’ confinement, dishonorable discharge and reduction to the lowest rank for his role in Johnson’s death. However, Sims will serve no more than six years’ jail time because of a pretrial agreement and credit for time already served. On Wednesday, Sims pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, disobeying an order by being a gang member and distribution of marijuana and Ecstasy.

On July 3, 2005, Sims was one of at least six Gangster Disciples who beat Johnson for six minutes during a gang initiation near Kaiserslautern, according to testimony. Two soldiers were convicted last year for their part in Johnson’s death. They were sentenced to 12 years’ and six years’ of confinement, respectively. A third soldier tried in 2007 was acquitted.

Sims’ court-martial, which initially was set to begin Monday, started Wednesday afternoon.
During roughly four hours of questioning Wednesday from the military judge, Air Force Col. Gordon Hammock, Sims detailed his participation in Johnson’s initiation.

Hammock repeatedly sought to determine why things got so out of hand on July 3, 2005.
“I have no idea as to why it escalated to the point that it did,” Sims told the judge. “It just got out of control.”

Sims, who trained as a boxer in his youth in Queens, N.Y., was asked several questions by Hammock about the ferocity of Johnson’s beating.

“You’re a strong guy,” Hammock said. “If you were on the receiving end of that (beating), how do you think you would have fared?”

Sims’ reply underscored the severity of what the 5-foot-3 Johnson went through.

“I don’t see how anybody could have made it out of that,” Sims said.

On Thursday evening, Cockrell took the stand to deliver testimony that captivated the courtroom and brought Sims to tears.

Cockrell talked of raising Johnson as a single mother in Baltimore. At times, the former drug addict and current counselor had courtroom spectators laughing. At times, Cockrell had the gallery crying. At times, Cockrell broke down.

The gang, in which Sims said he served as the second-highest-ranking member, fashioned itself as a family that would do anything for its members. Cockrell wondered where those family values were when gang members continued to punch and kick her son, even after he fell and could no longer stand during his initiation, she said.

Just like the other convicted gang members, Sims expressed regret for his actions on July 3, 2005, and what happened to Johnson. Cockrell wasn’t buying it Thursday night.

“Isn’t it funny,” she said. “None of them showed remorse until you bring them to justice.”
Twice Cockrell was asked if she had anything else she would like to say to the judge, Sims or the court.

She turned to Sims and then the judge.

“I say to you (Sims),” Cockrell said, “how could you beat [Johnson] when you didn’t even know him? I would say to the judge: At what point do we do something different to make sure this doesn’t happen in our military?”

In an intensely emotional moment, Cockrell addressed Sims a final time.

“I hope you feel some remorse for killing (Johnson) because at the end of the day that’s what you’ve done,” said Cockrell while sobbing. “You robbed me of not only my son but my best friend.”

Seated among his three lawyers, Sims uttered a tearful “I’m sorry.”

Sims quietly wept in his chair for minutes afterward.

© 2007 Stars and Stripes. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=55087

Mother of sergeant fatally beaten in gang initiation takes aim at son’s killer, military

Filed under: gangs, gangs in the military, gangster disciples, germany, juwan johnson, murder — carterfsmith @ 4:11 pm

Saturday, May 24, 2008

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes European edition, Sunday, May 25, 2008 Steve Mraz / S&S

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Losing a child is like somebody stabbing you in the heart with an ice pick and leaving it in just so they can apply pressure. The ice pick is never ripped out of your heart, just constantly ripped at.

That’s how Stephanie Cockrell, the mother of a soldier beaten to death by fellow troops during a 2005 gang initiation, described the feeling of life without her only child, Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

During a court-martial last week for Airman Nicholas Sims, Cockrell told the court she is not proud her son joined a gang hours before his death on July 4, 2005. She wonders how she’ll tell her grandson about the identity of the father he will never meet.

The 28-year-old Sims — who has been in pretrial confinement for 162 days — was sentenced Friday to eight years’ confinement, dishonorable discharge and reduction to the lowest rank for his role in Johnson’s death. However, Sims will serve no more than six years’ jail time because of a pretrial agreement and credit for time already served. On Wednesday, Sims pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, disobeying an order by being a gang member and distribution of marijuana and Ecstasy.

On July 3, 2005, Sims was one of at least six Gangster Disciples who beat Johnson for six minutes during a gang initiation near Kaiserslautern, according to testimony. Two soldiers were convicted last year for their part in Johnson’s death. They were sentenced to 12 years’ and six years’ of confinement, respectively. A third soldier tried in 2007 was acquitted.

Sims’ court-martial, which initially was set to begin Monday, started Wednesday afternoon.
During roughly four hours of questioning Wednesday from the military judge, Air Force Col. Gordon Hammock, Sims detailed his participation in Johnson’s initiation.

Hammock repeatedly sought to determine why things got so out of hand on July 3, 2005.
“I have no idea as to why it escalated to the point that it did,” Sims told the judge. “It just got out of control.”

Sims, who trained as a boxer in his youth in Queens, N.Y., was asked several questions by Hammock about the ferocity of Johnson’s beating.

“You’re a strong guy,” Hammock said. “If you were on the receiving end of that (beating), how do you think you would have fared?”

Sims’ reply underscored the severity of what the 5-foot-3 Johnson went through.

“I don’t see how anybody could have made it out of that,” Sims said.

On Thursday evening, Cockrell took the stand to deliver testimony that captivated the courtroom and brought Sims to tears.

Cockrell talked of raising Johnson as a single mother in Baltimore. At times, the former drug addict and current counselor had courtroom spectators laughing. At times, Cockrell had the gallery crying. At times, Cockrell broke down.

The gang, in which Sims said he served as the second-highest-ranking member, fashioned itself as a family that would do anything for its members. Cockrell wondered where those family values were when gang members continued to punch and kick her son, even after he fell and could no longer stand during his initiation, she said.

Just like the other convicted gang members, Sims expressed regret for his actions on July 3, 2005, and what happened to Johnson. Cockrell wasn’t buying it Thursday night.

“Isn’t it funny,” she said. “None of them showed remorse until you bring them to justice.”
Twice Cockrell was asked if she had anything else she would like to say to the judge, Sims or the court.

She turned to Sims and then the judge.

“I say to you (Sims),” Cockrell said, “how could you beat [Johnson] when you didn’t even know him? I would say to the judge: At what point do we do something different to make sure this doesn’t happen in our military?”

In an intensely emotional moment, Cockrell addressed Sims a final time.

“I hope you feel some remorse for killing (Johnson) because at the end of the day that’s what you’ve done,” said Cockrell while sobbing. “You robbed me of not only my son but my best friend.”

Seated among his three lawyers, Sims uttered a tearful “I’m sorry.”

Sims quietly wept in his chair for minutes afterward.

© 2007 Stars and Stripes. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=55087

Mother of sergeant fatally beaten in gang initiation takes aim at son’s killer, military

Filed under: gangs, gangs in the military, gangster disciples, germany, juwan johnson, murder — carterfsmith @ 4:11 pm

Saturday, May 24, 2008

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes European edition, Sunday, May 25, 2008 Steve Mraz / S&S

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Losing a child is like somebody stabbing you in the heart with an ice pick and leaving it in just so they can apply pressure. The ice pick is never ripped out of your heart, just constantly ripped at.

That’s how Stephanie Cockrell, the mother of a soldier beaten to death by fellow troops during a 2005 gang initiation, described the feeling of life without her only child, Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

During a court-martial last week for Airman Nicholas Sims, Cockrell told the court she is not proud her son joined a gang hours before his death on July 4, 2005. She wonders how she’ll tell her grandson about the identity of the father he will never meet.

The 28-year-old Sims — who has been in pretrial confinement for 162 days — was sentenced Friday to eight years’ confinement, dishonorable discharge and reduction to the lowest rank for his role in Johnson’s death. However, Sims will serve no more than six years’ jail time because of a pretrial agreement and credit for time already served. On Wednesday, Sims pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, disobeying an order by being a gang member and distribution of marijuana and Ecstasy.

On July 3, 2005, Sims was one of at least six Gangster Disciples who beat Johnson for six minutes during a gang initiation near Kaiserslautern, according to testimony. Two soldiers were convicted last year for their part in Johnson’s death. They were sentenced to 12 years’ and six years’ of confinement, respectively. A third soldier tried in 2007 was acquitted.

Sims’ court-martial, which initially was set to begin Monday, started Wednesday afternoon.
During roughly four hours of questioning Wednesday from the military judge, Air Force Col. Gordon Hammock, Sims detailed his participation in Johnson’s initiation.

Hammock repeatedly sought to determine why things got so out of hand on July 3, 2005.
“I have no idea as to why it escalated to the point that it did,” Sims told the judge. “It just got out of control.”

Sims, who trained as a boxer in his youth in Queens, N.Y., was asked several questions by Hammock about the ferocity of Johnson’s beating.

“You’re a strong guy,” Hammock said. “If you were on the receiving end of that (beating), how do you think you would have fared?”

Sims’ reply underscored the severity of what the 5-foot-3 Johnson went through.

“I don’t see how anybody could have made it out of that,” Sims said.

On Thursday evening, Cockrell took the stand to deliver testimony that captivated the courtroom and brought Sims to tears.

Cockrell talked of raising Johnson as a single mother in Baltimore. At times, the former drug addict and current counselor had courtroom spectators laughing. At times, Cockrell had the gallery crying. At times, Cockrell broke down.

The gang, in which Sims said he served as the second-highest-ranking member, fashioned itself as a family that would do anything for its members. Cockrell wondered where those family values were when gang members continued to punch and kick her son, even after he fell and could no longer stand during his initiation, she said.

Just like the other convicted gang members, Sims expressed regret for his actions on July 3, 2005, and what happened to Johnson. Cockrell wasn’t buying it Thursday night.

“Isn’t it funny,” she said. “None of them showed remorse until you bring them to justice.”
Twice Cockrell was asked if she had anything else she would like to say to the judge, Sims or the court.

She turned to Sims and then the judge.

“I say to you (Sims),” Cockrell said, “how could you beat [Johnson] when you didn’t even know him? I would say to the judge: At what point do we do something different to make sure this doesn’t happen in our military?”

In an intensely emotional moment, Cockrell addressed Sims a final time.

“I hope you feel some remorse for killing (Johnson) because at the end of the day that’s what you’ve done,” said Cockrell while sobbing. “You robbed me of not only my son but my best friend.”

Seated among his three lawyers, Sims uttered a tearful “I’m sorry.”

Sims quietly wept in his chair for minutes afterward.

© 2007 Stars and Stripes. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=55087

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