Two Soldiers Charged in Panama Death
FORT ORD, Calif. (AP) _ Two soldiers have been charged with murdering a woman outside a bar during the U.S. invasion of Panama and a third soldier has pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the case, the Army revealed.
The case, made public Thursday, is the second prosecution of U.S. soldiers for their conduct during the invasion. A paratrooper based at Fort Bragg, N.C., was charged with murder for shooting a Panamanian who surrendered to U.S. forces during the December invasion that toppled Gen. Manuel Noriega.
The charges against the Fort Ord soldiers involve the shooting death of a 50-year-old Panamanian woman at a bar. They were charged in late January, and were tentatively scheduled for military trial in late June, said Maj. L.D. Walker, a Fort Ord spokesman.
The men to be tried are Sgt. Paul R. Finsel Jr., 25, of Arkoma, Okla., and Pfc. Mark F. McMonagle, 20, of Philadelphia, Pa. The men were members of the 7th Light Infantry Division stationed at Fort Ord.
In addition to murder, charges against Finsel and McMonagle include conspiring to obstruct justice and willfully disobeying orders against consuming alcohol or having sexual contact with Panamanian women.
A third soldier, Pfc. Marc Gussen, 19, of Teaneck, N.J., pleaded guilty in April to firearms, alcohol and obstruction of justice charges in the case, Walker said. He was sentenced to two years’ confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to private and a dishonorable discharge.
John L. Williams, attorney for McMonagle, disputed the murder charge.
″Whatever it is, it is not murder,″ Williams told The New York Times. ″There is no evidence of premeditation at all. Nor is there good evidence that he is the person who fired the shot.″
The men were charged in the death of Leila Diaz De Panay on Jan. 25 in the Rio Abajo section of Panama City, according to Walker, who refused to reveal details.
According to Williams and McMonagle’s relatives, the trouble began when Finsel lost his pistol at a bar that also served as a brothel. To cover the loss, he suggested the men stage a firefight outside, the Times reported Sunday.
As they fired into the air, other soldiers came out of a nearby barracks to investigate. They were then ordered to pull back, with McMonagle covering the rear, Williams said. When Ms. Panay was killed in an alley, McMonagle was nearby, he said.
Under military law the maximum penalty for murder is death, but the sentence can be invoked only in a case of premeditated murder, said Walker. Penalties short of death are left to the discretion of the officer conducting the court martial, he said.
In the earlier case, 1st Sgt. Roberto Enrique Bryan, 42, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, faces a charge of premeditated murder.
He is accused of shooting a Panamanian man who surrendered after a grenade attack that injured two U.S. soldiers at Madden Dam outside Panama City on Dec. 23.