Two soldiers connected to the unsolved 2020 mystery surrounding the decapitation of Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez were convicted by court martial after facing charges related to conspiracy, disobeying orders and other non-violent offenses.
The convictions came two years after a group of seven soldiers went camping with Roman-Martinez on Memorial Day weekend, 2020. The group reported him missing on May 23, 2020 and less than a week later, Roman-Martinez's head washed ashore near Shackleford Banks Island, part of North Carolina's Outer Banks just west of where the soldiers were camping.
Roman-Martinez, 21, was assigned as a human resources specialist to the 82nd Airborne Division. He was originally from Chino, California.
The case has remained unsolved, with the cause of Roman-Martinez's death still unknown despite authorities treating the case as a homicide.
All seven soldiers who went camping with Roman-Martinez have faced minor charges -- disobeying orders, conspiracy, or drug use -- but the two convictions mark firsts for anyone involved in the case.
Sgt. Samuel Moore, the most senior soldier in the group, was convicted on Friday, July 15 of conspiracy and two counts of making a false statement. He was reduced in rank to specialist and ordered to forfeit two-thirds of his pay for one month. It is unclear when -- if at all -- he will be separated from the military.
Spc. Alex Becerra was convicted in June of three counts of disobeying a superior officer and one count of wrongful use of a controlled substance. He was previously charged with conspiracy and making false statements, according to Army public records, but was acquitted.
The Army confirmed that Becerra received a reduction in rank to private and has been separated from the military, but would not confirm the characterization of his discharge citing privacy concerns. The Fayetteville Observer was first to publish the details of his court martial, but his ejection from the military has not previously been reported.
The Army maintains that the convictions are not directly connected to Roman-Martinez's death.
"These charges are related to their actions at the same time of his death but not related to his death," said Fort Bragg spokesperson, Lt. Col. Brett Lea, in an email to Military.com.
The other five soldiers were charged with minor offenses, but have not been convicted.
The soldiers who accompanied Roman-Martinez on the excursion all made the trip despite a COVID-19 lockdown protocol at their home base of Fort Bragg.
An autopsy reportedly ruled Roman-Martinez's death a homicide, but medical examiners could not determine the cause. The Army's Criminal Investigation Division is investigating the case as a homicide, but has categorized his death as a cold case.
The Army Times reported that just hours prior to calling 911 on May 23, 2020 to report their friend missing, the group of soldiers ran into U.S. Park Rangers who asked them to move their vehicles. In the 911 call, one of the soldiers said that the group had been looking for the missing paratrooper all day, trying to locate park rangers for help.
CID has previously said that agents investigated the soldiers for drug use.
The Army received criticism during the case as well, with Roman-Martinez's family reporting a month after the camping trip that law enforcement had not been forthcoming with information and CID releasing perplexing details about the case.
In August 2021, CID implied that Roman-Martinez may have been hit by a boat.
"Please understand that homicide basically means that someone's death was caused by someone else," said CID Special Agent Steve Chancellor in a press release. "That means that the death could have been intentional or it could have been unintentional -- for example in this case, someone running over someone with a boat while the person was in the water, etc."
CID continues to offer a $50,000 reward for information connected to the case.
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.