Jury convicts Marine drill instructor of abusing recruits
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — A Marine Corps drill instructor was guilty of physically abusing a series of young recruits, sometimes while drunk, and focusing his fury on three Muslim-American military volunteers, a military jury decided Thursday.
The eight-man jury at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, determined that Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix was guilty of hazing and maltreatment of recruits at the Marine Corps’ Parris Island, South Carolina, boot camp. The jury of five sergeants and three officers decided Felix punched, kicked and choked military hopefuls.
The 34-year-old Iraq veteran could be sentenced to military prison, financial penalties and a dishonorable discharge. The jury was to begin sentencing deliberations Friday.
Felix was accused in more than three dozen criminal counts of being a central figure in an abusive group of drill instructors at Parris Island that came to light after the March 2016 suicide of one of the three Muslim-American recruits Felix targeted.
A hazing investigation led to charges against Felix, five other drill instructors and the training battalion’s commanding officer. Eleven others faced lesser, administrative discipline. Felix also was convicted of lying to investigators.
Felix had pleaded not guilty and did not testify during his trial.
The lengthy list of charges against Felix included a series of disturbing acts against more than a dozen recruits. They included commanding recruits to choke each other, ordering them to drink chocolate milk and then training them until they vomited, punching recruits in the face or kicking them to the ground, and twice pressured Muslim recruits into an industrial clothes dryer.
“He wasn’t making Marines. He was breaking Marines,” prosecutor Lt. Col. John Norman told jurors Wednesday. Felix was a “bully” who particularly “picked out three Muslim recruits for special abuse because of their Muslim faith.”
In one case, Felix was accused of ordering former trainee Lance Cpl. Ameer Bourmeche into a clothes dryer, which then was turned on as Felix demanded he renounce his Islamic faith. Bourmeche testified that he twice affirmed his creed and twice Felix and another drill instructor sent him for a bruising, scorching tumble inside the dryer. After a third spin, Bourmeche said he feared for his life and renounced his faith. The drill instructors then let him out, he said.
Felix was accused of maltreating Raheel Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Pakistani-American from Taylor, Michigan. He committed suicide in March 2016 by jumping off a stairwell after Felix barked at and slapped him, prosecutors said. Siddiqui’s family last month filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Marine Corps, which remains pending.
Felix also was convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct and making false official statements.
In 2015 and 2016, the drill instructor derided Siddiqui and two other Muslim as “terrorists,” Norman said Wednesday. Felix also ordered Bourmeche to simulate chopping off the head of a fellow Marine while reciting “God is Great” in Arabic, Norman said.
Felix was permanently removed from his duties as a drill instructor after the investigation began, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joshua Pena said.
Felix’s chief defense attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Bridges, said Wednesday the dozens of prosecution witnesses gave contradictory accounts that the government unfairly fashioned into a case against the brawny drill instructor who called all recruits “terrorist.” Young men told investigators fanciful stories including one in which Felix grabbed a recruit by the throat and lifted him off the ground with one arm, Bridges said.