A sailor who shot and killed his best friend was found not guilty of murder by a military judge Thursday, but he'll serve more than two years in a brig for guilty pleas to related charges.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Austin Greening shot 24-year-old Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristopher Klubert at Greening's off-base Norfolk apartment on March 9, 2013. Greening said he accidentally shot Klubert after he was handed a loaded Colt .45 pistol while he was playing a football video game.
"I don't know the words to adequately describe how I feel about it. I can't possibly begin to imagine how his family hurts," Greening said during his sentencing, where he said he wouldn't place a burden on the Klubert family by asking for forgiveness. "I hope some day they are able to find some peace."
Greening, 26, originally was tried in state court and convicted of second-degree murder, which is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. But Greening won a new trial before sentencing based on evidence from the autopsy. He then pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served six months.
Klubert's family and the Navy weren't happy with the length of that sentence. So the Navy charged him with murder under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. After he was released from prison on the civilian conviction, the Navy placed him in the brig to await a second trial. He could've faced life in prison if convicted of the military murder charges.
During the second murder trial's opening statements this week, military prosecutor Lt. Adam Partridge said it would have been difficult for Greening to accidentally fire the gun. He also noted the football game was paused when police arrived, which he said can only be done by physically pressing the pause button on a PlayStation 3 controller.
Greening had said he shot Klubert while he was engrossed in his game and had told investigators he was becoming annoyed with Klubert because he kept interrupting him, causing him to throw interceptions.
At the beginning of the military trial last week, Greening pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and obstruction of justice. Greening washed his hands to conceal gunpowder residue, placed the gun in Klubert's hand and lied to 911 operators and police by originally saying Klubert accidentally shot himself.
Greening faced a maximum sentence of 15 years, but military judge Capt. Charles Purnell sentenced Greening to 3 1/2 years. Purnell did not elaborate on his decision. With credit for time spent in pretrial confinement, Greening will spend about 2 1/2 years behind bars this time.
Prosecutors sought five years, while Greening's civilian attorney argued he should be released immediately and never should have faced a second trial to begin with.
"It's not right, it's not fair, it's not just," Greg McCormack said. "This is a gross miscarriage of justice what's happening here."
In a statement before sentencing, Greening said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident and cried as he recounted how his actions have affected so many people's lives.
"My heart aches for Mr. and and Mrs. Klubert," Greening said tearfully as they sat a few feet away. "From the bottom of my heart, I am so very sorry for what I did."
Klubert's parents provided emotional testimony about how their son's loss has affected them and their home community of Yorkville, Ohio. Klubert was a firefighter, his father a fire chief and his mother an employee at the same station. Klubert also was a police officer and would volunteer to work shifts when he was on military leave so other officers could have time off.
Klubert's mother, Valerie Klubert, said her son wanted to help other people from the time he was a small child, whether it was raking leaves, cutting grass or shoveling snow from neighbors' driveways. If she was washing dishes, he'd step in to dry them.
She said her son was like a clone of her, someone who had a sarcastic sense of humor whom she could speak with for hours at a time.
"He was always wanting to help others," she said. "He never knew a stranger."
Hundreds lined the streets during Klubert's funeral procession to pay tribute to him.
Had he stayed in the Navy, she said, he wanted to be a drill instructor. Had he decided to leave, he wanted to teach history.
She said the loss has been so profound that she had to resign from the fire department and the town council. She considered suicide.
Klubert's father, Kevin, also resigned from the fire department because it became too difficult for him to focus and he couldn't give 100 percent. A sight, a song, a smell, anything can come up and make him think of his son, he said.
"You see it and it brings it all back," he said. "I can't sleep at night."
In addition to prison, Greening faces a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and reduction in rank to seaman recruit.