A Legal Blog for the rest of us!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Via the AP, word comes that the prosecution has rested in the court-martial of a Marine accused of conspiring to sabotage military parachutes:

Three Marines nearly died when they used parachutes allegedly damaged at the behest of Cpl. Clayton A. Chaffin, a 28-year-old air delivery specialist from Franklin, Ohio. Reserve chutes slowed their descent. He's charged with conspiring to cut the lines on at least 13 parachutes used during a Sept. 21, 2002 training exercise. The prosecution also accuses Chaffin of trying to frame another Marine for the crime.

Gunnery Sgt. Keith Johnson, a former 2nd Air Delivery Platoon sergeant, testified on Monday that Chaffin's command frequently counseled him about his finances and certain military issues. He also said officials declined to recommend Chaffin for promotion to sergeant five or six times before incident.

Johnson testified that pre-jump equipment protocol focused on external checks, meaning "any internal tampering would go undetected."

This is truly a bizarre case. The article says that the Marine is only being charged with, among other things, assault likely to produce grievous bodily harm (Art 128, UCMJ, 10 USC 928). Not having the case before me, I think a good case could be made for attempted murder (Arts. 80 & 118, UCMJ, 10 USC 880, 918). Any rigger would know that cutting the lines on a parachute would be likely to cause death, and I think an argument is easy that because of this knowledge, the rigger premeditated the deaths of the jumping Marines.

Another thing about this case catches my attention. The article notes that the accused Marine's platoon sergeant thought that "pre-jump equipment protocol focused on external checks, meaning 'any internal tampering would go undetected.'" That may be so, but there usually is another check on this process. I know that in Army Airborne units, riggers must be Airborne qualified. This is because they are subject to no-notice jumps when they must jump with a randomly-selected parachute that that very rigger has packed. Does this procedure exist in the Marines? If not, I think this case would be argument for it to be instituted. Riggers are less likely to screw with the chutes if their own lives are on the line.