The first of six drill instructors to face charges in connection with alleged hazing of recruits at boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, was found not guilty Wednesday evening, the Marine's attorney confirmed. Sgt. Riley Gress had been charged with violation of a lawful general order, cruelty and maltreatment, and false official statement. His special court-martial began at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, on Monday, with a panel, or jury, consisting of six enlisted Marines and three officers. Gress was one of 15 DIs who were removed from their posts last year after a series of investigations substantiated incidents of hazing and abuse of recruits, ranging from unauthorized physical training in unhealthy conditions to stuffing a Muslim recruit in an industrial dryer and calling him a terrorist. The March 18, 2016, death of 20-year-old Raheel Siddiqui, officially classified a suicide, was found by the investigations to be driven in part by the treatment he received at the hands of his senior drill instructor. Capt. Geoffrey Ogden, the Marine Corps attorney assigned to defend Gress, told Military.com that he and fellow defense attorney, Coast Guard Lt. Alicia Bell, were "very happy with the result" of the case, but declined to comment further. Gress was the most junior in rank of the drill instructors accused of hazing and was not linked to the dryer incident or Siddiqui's death. Instead, his charges were connected with a "Red Dot" investigation launched after an anonymous letter was sent to President Barack Obama last April on behalf of the recruits of Third Recruit Training Battalion's Kilo company, Platoon 3044. The resulting 50-page investigation contained accounts of recruits being forced to fight each other while drill instructors watched, excessive physical training, and various episodes in which recruits were called profane names, berated and humiliated. The verdict in Gress' case may be an indicator of the inherent difficulty in prosecuting these cases. While none of the defendants has spoken publicly about the scandal, the attorney for Staff Sgt. Michael Eldridge, another drill instructor facing charges, told Military.com in March that the accusations against Eldridge were baseless. "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." Eldridge is set to face general court-martial at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in September on charges of failure to obey a lawful general order, cruelty and maltreatment, false official statement, and drunk and disorderly conduct. Staff Sgts. Matthew Bacchus, Jose Lucena-Martinez, and Antonio Burke, all charged in connection with the Red Dot investigation, will face court-martial proceedings at Quantico this summer. Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, who is accused of being involved in both the dryer incident and the events leading up to Siddiqui's death, will face general court-martial at Lejeune in August. -- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.
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