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Marine’s Charges Stand in Accident

March 26, 1999

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C (AP) _ A judge refused Thursday to dismiss obstruction of justice charges against a Marine navigator whose jet clipped an Italian gondola cable, killing 20 people.

Col. Alvin Keller said there was sufficient evidence to proceed with the court-martial of Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, 31, of Westbury, N.Y. Jury selection was scheduled to begin Friday.

Schweitzer is accused of destroying a videotape that he shot before the EA-6B Prowler hit the cable near Cavalese in the Italian Alps on Feb. 3, 1998. He is the second crew member to be tried in the accident.

A military jury on March 4 acquitted the jet’s pilot, Capt. Richard Ashby, 31, of Mission Viejo, Calif., of manslaughter and other charges.

During his trial, Ashby said Schweitzer filmed the early part of their training flight. After they landed, he gave the tape to Schweitzer and never saw it again, Ashby testified.

In arguing for dismissal, defense lawyers said the aviators couldn’t have known a criminal inquiry would be started when they landed after the accident and couldn’t have conspired to block one.

``No pilot in the Marine Corps in 30 years has ever gone to a criminal trial″ over an air mishap, argued Navy Lt. Kathryn Clune, representing Schweitzer. ``There was no intent to obstruct a criminal proceeding.″

Prosecutor Maj. Daniel Daugherty said the defense argument was far-fetched.

``They had just screwed up a $50 million airplane,″ Daugherty said. ``To say the only thing aviators think about when they screw up an aircraft is an administrative mishap board ... defies common sense.″

Manslaughter counts against Schweitzer were dismissed after the acquittal. Both men still face charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of the videotape’s disappearance. If convicted, Schweitzer could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

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