The charges stem from the early-morning shooting at the barracks at Eighth and I streets in Southeast Washington, the nation’s oldest active Marine post and the site of the Home of the Commandants. The shooting happened about 5:05 a.m.
The Marine who was killed, Lance Cpl. Riley S. Kuznia, 20, grew up in Karlstad, Minn., a small town of about 740 near the Canadian border, where he hunted, fished and played with his two sisters and brother. He told his mother when he was a child that he wanted to be a Marine. He had 14 classmates in his graduating high school class.
Kuznia was a team leader assigned to guard duty at the post. He was shot just after he had returned from spending Christmas at home.
Reached Thursday, Kuznia’s mother, Markelle, said she had just learned about the charges and the new information about her son’s death. “I’m just trying to process it,” she said, declining to comment further.
The military has not publicly described the circumstances of the shooting. In January, three officials familiar with the case said investigators were looking at several possible scenarios, including that a gun accidentally discharged while being passed from one Marine to another during a shift change for guard duty, and that a Marine accidentally fired a gun while removing it from a holster.
The charges filed and announced Thursday indicate more serious circumstances. A charge sheet obtained and first reported by the Miliary Times alleges Johnson shot Kuznia in the head after pointing a handgun at him and pulling the “trigger in jest.”
According to the Military Times, the charge sheet also alleges that Johnson had taken out his handgun in November and waved it around while dancing, and then again on Dec. 31 — the day before the shooting — chambering a round and saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to party.’ ”
Military officials did not immediately provide a copy of the charge sheet to The Washington Post.
“A complete and thorough investigation was conducted following this tragic incident,” Col. Donald Tomich, the commanding officer at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., said in a statement. “We initiated immediate actions within Guard Company to ensure proper policies and procedures are maintained and strictly followed.”
Tomich added: “Barracks remains committed to supporting Lance Cpl. Kuznia’s family as the legal process will undoubtedly reopen some wounds. Time does not ease the pain of their loss or make dealing with this any easier for them, and our thoughts and prayers remain with them. They are a part of the Marine Barracks Washington Family.”
It could not be learned whether Johnson was being detained. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney.
The case will move to what is called an Article 32 hearing on Aug. 22 at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. The proceeding is public and similar to a preliminary hearing in civilian court.
Gary D. Solis, a former Marine judge advocate and military judge, said that the hearing is more extensive than its civilian cousin and that the government will seek to present evidence to convince the presiding officer that a crime has been committed and that the accused is responsible. The accused can testify if he or she wishes.
If the presiding officer, typically a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Office, finds that a crime has occurred, then the case is sent back to the commander who initially handled the case. In this case, Solis said, it probably would be the post commander at the barracks. That person decides whether the case should be handled with administrative sanctions, discharge or a court-martial.
Solis said that because of the seriousness of this case, it was likely to go to a court-martial.