An Army drill sergeant was found guilty of negligent homicide, maltreatment and dereliction of duty today in the heatstroke death of a Fort Jackson recruit last summer.
Sgt. 1C Lawrence Chapman Jr. was demoted one grade to staff sergeant and fined $500 after a six-man military jury convicted him of three charges stemming from the June 29 death of Wayne Krassow, 18, of Cygnet, Ohio.
Chapman was found innocent of the death the same day of a second recruit, Lester Watts, 18, of York, S.C. The general court martial jury deliberated three hours.
The trial has attracted national attention. Repeated testimony about grueling exercises raised questions about whether the deaths were an aberration in the Army's otherwise smooth basic training program or an inevitable result of routinely condoned abuse of trainees.
"I know I'm still not guilty," Chapman said, smiling as he hugged his weeping wife after the sentence was announced.
Krassow and Watts had just arrived at their company area to begin 6 1/2 weeks basic training the day they died. Fort Jackson is the Army's largest recruit training base, with a daily average 7,477 male and female recruits.
If convicted of all original charges, including involuntary manslaughter, Chapman could have faced up to six years andthr ee months confinement at hard labor, dishonorable discharge, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
A second drill sergeant, Sgt. Willie Alexander, will be tried beginning Tuesday on two counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of maltreatment and dereliction of duty in the two deaths. He has pleaded innocent.
The verdict came after five days of testimony last week by 56 witnesses, including Chapman and 22 recruits present the day of the deaths.
Army prosecutors said Chapman was culpably negligent in ordering about an hour's strenuous exercise, including crawling in sand and carrying sandbags, logs and bleachers, despite a post-wide ban on physical exercises because of high humidity and 105-degree heat. They also said Chapman did not offer first aid when recruits repeatedly collapsed.
Several witnesses testified that drill sergeants ordered Krassow to perform special exercises, including running in his socks with a 25-pound sandbag and doing pushups with a full duffle bag on his back, as punishment for being slow. They said Watts was forced to run carrying a heavy log.
Though testimony conflicted, former recruits said Krassow collapsed about five times without receiving medical aid. After he collapsed the last time, according to several witnesses, Chapman stood by as Alexander said, "This one's dead; get a shovel and bury him." They said Alexander then inserted open ammonia capsules in Krassow's nostrils and left them there.
Chapman told the court he did not know physical training was banned that day, did not order either recruit to do special exercises, and did not see either recruit collapse. He also said he was not trained to recognize or treat injuries.
In an interview, Chapman said he is being held responsible for general Army recruitment problems, including regular training excesses and the acceptance of unhealthy or unqualified recruits.
"I'm a scapegoat, no doubt about it," said Chapman, 34, who has won two combat awards and eight service and skill decorations in 14 years' service.
The case has embarrassed Army officials in Washington, who had insisted that maltreatment and excessive discipline were things of the past.
After the courts martial, the House Armed Services Committee will hold hearings into deaths and abuses in Army training, according to Rep. Delbert Latta (R-Ohio). The committee sent investigators to the base in July after Latta, who represents Krassow's home district, complained that the Army had refused to provide details of the deaths.