CAMP PENDLETON -- In a nearly seven-hour emotionally charged court martial hearing at the Marine Corps base, Pfc. Raymond W. Begay was convicted, Wednesday, July 25, of involuntary manslaughter in the fatal stabbing of a fellow Marine at the School of Infantry.
Begay, 20, a Native American who grew up on the Hoopa Reservation in Humboldt County, was sentenced to seven years of confinement in a brig on base for the Jan. 16 stabbing of Pfc. Ethan Andrew Barclay-Weberpal, 18, of Janesville, Wis. Begay's rank has been downgraded to the lowest enlisted grade and he will receive a Bad Conduct Discharge upon release.
"Pfc. Begay is disappointed by his length of confinement but understands the need for punishment in this case," said Andrew Cherkasky, a San Juan Capistrano civilian defense attorney representing Begay.
Senior Trial Council Major Aaron Walsh had asked for the maximum 10-year confinement.
"Barclay-Weberpal died by puncture wound into the chest in a known sensitive area," Walsh said. "He got Marine Corps training to never point your weapon at something you don't intend to shoot. This applies to a knife. What kind of sense of order does this reflect in a schoolhouse environment?"
Begay, dressed in his service uniform and wearing a National Defense Medal, on Wednesday entered pleas of "not guilty" to attempted murder and to obstruction of justice but "guilty" to involuntary manslaughter before Lt. Col Jeffrey Munoz, the military judge. In June, the U.S. government agreed to withdraw the murder and obstruction of justice charges in exchange for a guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter.
The two Marines, part of Lima Company, were sitting in formation in the School of Infantry bleachers when the incident occurred. In his plea, Begay testified that he was sitting behind Barclay-Weberpal and was joking around while playing with a knife because he was bored.
"I reached around him and the knife sliced through his blouse and penetrated his skin," Begay said. "(Pfc. Ethan Barclay-Weberpal) died as a result of my terrible actions."
Begay told the court he and Barclay-Weberpal were "good friends" and met while in Reconnaissance Training Company. Later, both were dropped from the training company and placed at Lima Company awaiting new assignments.
"I applied the knife to his chest and applied pressure which resulted in the knife penetrating him," Begay said.
Begay said he had purchased the knife just days before and did not realize how sharp it was.
"In the moment, I was simply intending to poke him," he said. "I was simply trying to annoy him as a friend. I wasn't trying to cause harm."
After accepting the guilty plea, Munoz moved to the sentencing phase during which statements were read by the Begay, Barclay and Weberpal families, drawing tears from those in the gallery.
Daniel Eugene Jordan, Begay's grandfather and director of commerce on the Hoopa Reservation, described his grandson as a hard worker who grew up living by the Hoopa Valley Tribe's code of ethics, integrity and honor.
"He has an obligation to the family and the tribal council to set things right," Jordan said. "He has to go back to the tribal community and show he is the same Raymond Begay as when he left. If he doesn't do that the tribal community will marginalize him."
Barclay-Weberpal was represented in comments by his parents Scott Weberpal and Casey Cass, who were never married, and his grandparents who partially raised him -- Lisa and Lewis Barclay. Five other family members, along with Scott Weberpal's fiancee, sat in the gallery.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think Ethan would die in the hands of one of his own," Scott Weberpal said. "I lost my best man for my wedding, I lost my son. I can't describe the depth of loss of a father and son bond... . It was broken, so was my heart."
Cass said she is a different person since her son was killed. She spoke of her suffering and how she is overcome by bouts of grief.
"What we have here is what we get for a lifetime just because of this young man's choice," she said. "This young man took something from me. He took him from every single minute for the rest of my life. Every morning when I wake up and realize it's not a dream, my son dies over and over again."
This article is written by Erika I. Ritchie from Orange County Register and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.