Marine Amputee Acquitted On Gun Possession Charges

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

After being deadlocked twice, a D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday acquitted a Marine amputee on felony charges of gun possession stemming from an arrest while he was on the way to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

In the 2006 incident, Cpl. Melroy H. Cort, 24, and his wife, Samantha, were en route from their home in Columbus, Ohio, to Walter Reed. Cort's legs had been amputated above the knees when he was wounded by a makeshift bomb in Ramadi during his third tour of duty in Iraq.

The couple's car got a flat tire, forcing them to pull over at a car repair shop in the 5000 block of Georgia Avenue NW. While there, Cort said, he reached into the glove compartment, removed a 9mm pistol and put it in his jacket pocket.

A witness who noticed Cort handling the gun called police, who arrested and handcuffed Cort while he was sitting in his wheelchair. He was charged with three counts of carrying a pistol without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm and possession of ammunition. He spent the night in the D.C. jail before returning to Walter Reed.

He was assigned a public defender, who encouraged him to plead guilty. But Cort refused, because a felony on his record could cost him his military benefits. So he decided to represent himself.

"I had to fight for myself," he said yesterday. "I wasn't going to plead guilty and lose everything."

During his trial, which began Friday before Judge Lynn Leibovitz, the two arresting officers testified that Cort had thrown up his hands and told them he had a gun in his pocket when they approached him.

Taking the stand in his defense, Cort tried to tell his personal story: How he enlisted in the Marines in 2004 after graduating from Ohio's Wright State University with a business degree. How he went to Iraq in 2004 and 2005, when he was was critically injured. How he was fitted with prosthetic legs and honorably discharged in 2007.

But Leibovitz ordered him to discuss only the case at hand.

Cort, who said he had a permit to carry the gun in Ohio, said he had it with him because he had moved out of his house in anticipation of an extended stay at Walter Reed.

He said his commanding officer had advised him to take the gun to the armory on Walter Reed's base as soon as he arrived.

Cort said 12 rounds of ammunition were in his car trunk, but police said the ammunition was in the gun's clip.

Although acquitting him of the gun charges, the jury found Cort guilty of possessing ammunition, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to time already spent in the D.C. jail.

Cort, his wife and their 3-month-old daughter, Charlott, now plan to drive home to Columbus, where Samantha Cort is in real estate. Cort said he plans to appeal the verdict and tend to his family.

"I just plan to take care of my daughter," Cort said.


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