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Soldier Gets 6 Months for Stealing Cash
Stars and Stripes | Erik Slavin | February 07, 2008
CAMP CASEY, South Korea - There are actually some cases where drunkenness is used as a valid defense. But not this one.

Pvt. Matthew Lawrence Gardner claimed intoxication led him to steal 200,000 won ($225) out of a South Korean man's back pocket in March. Another alcohol-fueled night led him to take $531 out of a Soldier's wallet while the Soldier slept, he said.

On Wednesday, military judge Col. David Conn sentenced Gardner to six months in jail, an $890 per month reduction in pay and demotion to E-1 in the Camp Casey courtroom for the two thefts, breaking curfew and leaving post after his company commander ordered him to stay.

Gardner, of the 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, headquarters company, pleaded guilty to all charges. Conn, however, reminded him before accepting the plea that "alcoholic amnesia" is a valid defense, though Conn made no comment on its effectiveness.

The two larceny charges require "intent to permanently deprive" someone from using money or other stolen property under the Uniform Code of Military Justice

Extreme drunkenness could prevent a person from forming that intent, although other charges could still apply.

But Gardner said he remembered the incidents and intended to take the money to buy more alcohol after drinking in his room and at bars in each case.

"It got to the point where I thought I could do anything I wanted to do," Gardner said.

Gardner's plea agreement with prosecutors limited his sentence to six months of confinement. Conn issued the same sentence, although when the two conflict in military court, the lesser of the two sentences is passed to the base's convening authority for approval.

Gardner faced a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail had he not signed the plea agreement.

Between 2 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 22, Gardner walked into U.S. Army Spc. Chin Y. Song's room and stole his money. He confessed the next day to a first sergeant and paid back $150.

Song did not receive the rest back until last week, Song testified.

Gardner had already been in trouble after stealing won from the South Korean man on March 10, then failing to return to base before the 1 a.m. curfew.

"I saw it sticking out and I was out of money. Stupidity again," Gardner said.

The man reported the theft and Gardner later was apprehended by military police, according to court records.

In an unsworn statement, Gardner apologized for his crimes and pointed to a rough upbringing in his request for leniency.

His parents were both alcoholics who abandoned him as a child and he had fallen out of alcohol treatment counseling at the time, he said.

Prosecutor Capt. Michael Sweetman responded during his closing statement that Gardner's barracks theft damaged order and discipline, while his bar theft had international implications.

"This theft shows a dangerous lack of respect toward the host nation and portrays the Army in a terrible light," Sweetman said.

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