Sgt. Holcomb sentenced to 30 days, rank lowered over soldier’s suicide

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Los Angeles Times

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Army Sgt. Adam Holcomb of Youngstown was sentenced to 30 days in prison Tuesday and was reduced in rank for assaulting and maltreating Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, a Chinese American who endured abuse and ethnic slurs before committing suicide in Afghanistan on Oct. 3.

A court-martial panel of 10 service members could have sentenced Holcomb, 30, to a maximum of two years in prison with a dishonorable discharge. He was convicted at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Monday of assault and maltreatment for dragging Chen across a rocky pathway, bloodying his back, and for calling him “dragon lady” and other slurs.

Prosecutors had accused Holcomb, a platoon team leader who was not Chen’s immediate supervisor, of hounding Chen into committing suicide. But the panel rejected that scenario, acquitting Holcomb of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, hazing and communicating a threat.

Holcomb will be reduced in rank from sergeant to specialist, forfeiting nearly $1,200 in pay. Chinese American activists attending the trial demanded Monday that Holcomb never serve in the military again.

Holcomb’s military defense lawyers described him as a hero for his outstanding performance during three combat tours.

“He will always have the stigma of being convicted at a court-martial,” his attorney said during closing statements. “Suffice it to say, Sgt. Holcomb has been punished enough.”

One soldier, who lost a leg to an improvised explosive device, testified that Holcomb saved his life by holding off insurgents while calling in a medical helicopter.

Holcomb and Chen shared living quarters at a tiny, bleak base in southern Afghanistan called Combat Outpost Palace. A platoon of just 26 men was attacked almost daily by insurgents, and seven men were wounded.

Prosecutors said Holcomb and other soldiers ostracized and harassed Chen because of his Chinese American heritage. Defense lawyers said Chen was an inept and poorly prepared soldier who put lives at risk because he was chronically late, slept on guard duty, forgot to wear his equipment and could not properly fire his automatic rifle.

Seven other soldiers have been charged in Chen’s death. Their courts-martial will be held later this year.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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