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Hearing Set for Drill Instructor Linked to Muslim Recruit's Suicide

In this Thursday, April 28, 2016 photo, graduating Marines run past family members on family day at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, S.C. (Doug Strickland/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
In this Thursday, April 28, 2016 photo, graduating Marines run past family members on family day at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, S.C. (Doug Strickland/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

A commanding general has introduced charges for two Marine drill instructors accused of hazing recruits at Parris Island, including a senior enlisted member who allegedly threw a Muslim recruit in a dryer and turned it on and who later was alleged to have likely provided the impetus for another Muslim recruit's suicide.

The senior drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, will face an Article 32 investigative hearing March 16 on charges of failure to obey a lawful general order, cruelty and maltreatment, false official statement, drunk and disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice, officials said.

Officials with Marine Corps Training and Education Command announced the charges on Friday, but didn't release the name of the accused because the legal actions haven't yet been finalized. Even so, multiple sources confirmed his identity to Military.com.

Felix is the former senior drill instructor alleged to have hazed two Muslim recruits in separate incidents, one of which occurred moments before the suicide death of 20-year-old Pakistani-American recruit Raheel Siddiqui last March at the South Carolina base, sources said.

While investigations substantiated that Felix as the drill instructor was involved in both incidents, it's unclear which events are detailed in his charges.

Attempts to reach his military attorney, Capt. Richard Korges, were unsuccessful.

Another drill instructor, a sergeant, will have an Article 32 hearing March 17 on charges of failure to obey a lawful general order, cruelty and maltreatment, false official statement, and drunk and disorderly conduct.

An attorney for the sergeant, who has not been identified, spoke to his successful career on the drill field in a statement provided to Military.com.

"My client completed a successful tour on the drill field during which he trained hundreds of recruits," said Brian Magee, a defense attorney with Military Justice Attorneys in South Carolina. "He has endured well over a year of investigations that reveal nothing except baseless allegations by a few individuals with questionable and selfish motives. We look forward to our first opportunity to confront them under oath."

Both hearings are set to take place at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, officials with the command said. In the military justice system, service members are not formally charged and trial dates set until after the Article 32 process.

The alleged hazing was uncovered in a wide-ranging trio of investigations launched after the death of Siddiqui.

Siddiqui took his own life by jumping from the third story of a barracks building, moments after being slapped and berated by the senior drill instructor identified by sources as Felix. Felix was also the purported primary instigator in a 2015 incident in which a Muslim recruit was allegedly hazed in the middle of the night using an industrial clothes dryer, causing burns to his neck and shoulders, and forced to shout "Allah Akbar" loud enough to wake the other recruits.

Investigators stopped short of substantiating that drill instructors found culpable in the investigations were motivated by specific racial bias or Islamophobia. They pointed out that recruits of all races were routinely singled out by drill instructors within the scope of the investigations on account of their backgrounds and ethnicity, citing one incident in which a Russian recruit was allegedly asked if he was a communist spy.

Also Friday, command officials detailed charges or trial dates for four other Marine drill instructors who have previously faced investigative hearings in other incidents of alleged hazing at Parris Island.

Staff Sgt. Antonio B. Burke, has been charged with disobeying a noncommissioned officer, failure to obey a lawful order, cruelty and maltreatment, false official statement, wrongful appropriation, and general misconduct, and is pending date and time for arraignment, officials said.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Bacchus, charged with failure to obey a lawful general order, cruelty and maltreatment, and false official statement, will face trial April 10-14 at Quantico, officials said.

Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez, charged with failure to obey a lawful general order, will face trial May 15-19 at Quantico.

Sgt. Riley Gress, charged with failure to obey a lawful general order, cruelty and maltreatment, and false official statement, will begin his trial May 22 at Quantico.

Bacchus, Lucena-Martinez and Gress have had dates set for special court-martial proceedings. Special courts-martial, an intermediate-level military trial, are reserved for troops facing no more than 12 months' confinement.

"Referral and preferral of charges are accusations," a command spokesman, Capt. Joshua Pena, said in a release. "All Marines are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

The Marines' top officer said when the hazing allegations were made public last year that all the alleged incidents, which took place within Parris Island's 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, were not indicative of the larger culture within Marine Corps boot camp or the Corps in general.

"When America's men and women commit to becoming Marines, we make a promise to them. We pledge to train them with firmness, fairness, dignity and compassion," Gen. Robert Neller said in a statement released in September.

He added, "Simply stated, the manner in which we make Marines is as important as the finished product. Recruit training is, and will remain, physically and mentally challenging so that we can produce disciplined, ethical, basically trained Marines."

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the charge for Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez in the 17th paragraph.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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