Sailor Faces Murder Charges in Military Court for Shooting Best Friend

Austin Greening was convicted of second-degree murder for killing his best friend in 2013, but he won a new trial and wound up accepting a plea deal that gave him six months behind bars.

But as soon as the Navy petty officer third class was released from prison last fall, he was arrested by military authorities on murder charges -- for the same shooting death.

It's uncommon for the military to try a case that's already been adjudicated in civilian court, but it occasionally happens if military leaders aren't happy with a trial's outcome. Double jeopardy, the constitutional prohibition against being tried for the same crime twice, doesn't apply here because the first charges were in state court, and the new ones are federal.

An Article 32 hearing, similar to a preliminary hearing in civilian court, is scheduled for Friday .

"If they wanted to prosecute the case why not take it from the beginning? Why wait till the state court has finished? They weren't happy with the result so they want a do over?" Greening's former attorney, James Broccoletti, asked in an email.

"They allowed the state court to handle it for years which I believe was a commitment on their part to allow the case to run its course. To then arrest Greening on the day he was released from the state sentence is devastating."

Greening pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for shooting 24-year-old Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristopher Klubert in the face at his off-base apartment on March 9, 2013.

Klubert was supposed to deploy aboard the USS Carter Hall two days before the shooting, but poor weather delayed the amphibious dock landing ship's departure by four days. Klubert decided to spend some of his additional time ashore hanging out at his fellow gunner's mate's apartment watching television, playing video games and handling weapons over a few beers.

About seven hours after he arrived, Klubert was shot at close range below his left eye.

Greening three times told 911 dispatchers that Klubert shot himself. But he later told investigators he accidentally shot Klubert while trying to pick a play on a video game controller in his left hand while holding a Colt .45-caliber pistol he was just handed by Klubert in his right, according to court records.

Greening, who previously had been awarded a pistol sharpshooter ribbon by the Navy, said he tried to release the hammer gently so the gun wasn't cocked, but it fired. He said he later placed the weapon in Kulbert's hand, held it there with his own and considered killing himself.

Greening faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted of unpremeditated murder or murder while engaging in an act inherently dangerous to another. He's also charged with obstruction of justice, accused of falsely saying Klubert shot himself, placing the gun in Klubert's hand and washing his own hands before police arrived. The obstruction charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Military officials said they would not comment until Friday's hearing.

State court records say that shortly after Greening was arrested, he told another inmate in jail that he and Klubert were gambling on a "Madden NFL" football video game and that an argument erupted over the debt.

"He told that inmate that he 'snapped' during the argument, and the next thing he remembered was the gun going off," court records say.

Greening denied that -- he told detectives he was extremely tired when Klubert showed up and that several guns were out because he was robbed at gunpoint a few years earlier, but nobody was caught. He opened the door for Klubert while holding one of four guns in the apartment.

Greening told detectives he gets agitated when someone talks to him while he's playing the video game. He said he told Klubert to "shut up" because he kept throwing interceptions.

"Greening stated that he was frustrated because Kris was distracting him but not enough to kill him," court records say.

Greening said he had one beer more than three hours before the shooting.

In 2014, Norfolk Circuit Judge Junius Fulton convicted Greening of second-degree murder, punishable by up to 40 years in prison. But before sentencing, Broccoletti won Greening a new trial based on evidence from the autopsy.

The medical examiner testified that she believed a hemorrhage on the left side of Klubert's brain was caused by blunt force trauma. The prosecutor had argued Greening struck Klubert, then shot him.

But an independent review found a hairline fracture in the skull related to the gunshot wound that the medical examiner said was a "plausible cause" for the hemorrhage. Greening struck a deal in April to plead to the lesser manslaughter charge. He was sentenced in July to three years in prison with 2 1/2 years suspended. He received credit for the four months he already had spent in jail.

During his sentencing hearing, Greening apologized to Klubert's parents. They had testified that their son had served in the police and fire departments in Yorkville, Ohio, where his father, Kevin Klubert, was the fire chief, and his mother, Valerie, was the captain of emergency services. Both gave up their positions after their son's death.

A public telephone listing for the Kluberts was not available. Valerie Klubert did not reply to a Facebook message.

Greening said he and Klubert had known each other since boot camp and had met each other's families. He said he didn't shoot himself because he didn't want anyone to think that there was a planned murder-suicide, according to notes from a detective who interviewed him.

"He freaked out and immediately felt remorse, guilt and anger and he wanted to put the gun to his head (he still do) and pull the trigger so bad. He knew that if he did that then he knew that it would look like happened on purpose," the detective wrote in his notes.

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